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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Violin Concerto No.3 in B minor, Op. 61 (1880) [28:30]
La Muse et le Poète for violin, cello and orchestra, Op. 132 [16:27]
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (1872) [20:04]
Renaud Capuçon (violin); Gautier Capuçon (cello)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Lionel Bringuier
rec. 11-15 January 2013, Salle Pleyel, Paris (Op. 132, Op. 33); Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris (Op. 61)
ERATO 9341342 [65:48]

Parisian-born Saint-Saëns lived to the ripe old age of eighty-six. It’s staggering to think that when he was born in 1835 Mendelssohn had still twelve more years to live and Bernstein was born three years before Saint-Saëns died in Algiers in 1921.
 
From an early age Saint-Saëns composed prolifically and seemingly without effort. He once said: "I produce music like an apple tree produces apples." Throughout his long career Saint-Saëns wrote in virtually all genres, including symphonies, concertos, sacred and secular choral music, chamber music, numerous songs and solo pieces for piano and organ as well as no fewer than thirteen operas. Sadly, by the time of his death his popularity had diminished significantly. The Great War wrought seismic changes in the public’s musical tastes. Today in the concert hall the composer’s fame rests largely, if not exclusively, on just a small number of works, notably the Symphony No. 3Organ’, the Symphonic Poem: Danse macabre, the Wedding Cake:Caprice-Valse,the opera Samson and Delilah and theCarnival of the Animals. Saint-Saëns’s fortunes have fared rather better in the recording studio and in that sphere only the operas (except Samson and Delilah) remain neglected.
 
It is pleasing that the Capuçon siblings from Chambéry in the Savoie, have released this disc with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under a name new to me, Lionel Bringuier. He was born on the Côte d'Azur in Nice and is to become the chief conductor and music director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich from the 2014/2015 season. The violin played by Renaud Capuçon is the Guarneri del Gesù ‘Panette’ (Cremona, 1737) that belonged to Isaac Stern and Gautier’s cello is a Matteo Goffriller (Venice, 1701). 

Saint-Saëns wrote three concertos for violin and orchestra. The first two Op. 20 (1859) and Op. 58 (1858) are cast in the classical style. By far the most popular is the third, a dazzling late-Romantic work from 1880. The score is dedicated to Pablo de Sarasate the Spanish virtuoso who introduced the work in 1881 in Paris. I was immediately struck by the disarming lyrical expression and elevated assurance of Renaud’s playing which is enhanced by the Guarneri’s burnished silver tone. With playing of aching beauty especially in the Andantino Renaud creates a divine atmosphere of sun drenched warmth. Even so, the interpretation is never close to becoming an essay in saccharine and sentimentality.
 
Renaud Capuçon’s stunning account of the Violin Concerto No. 3 stands alongside the classic account so warmly expressive and superbly controlled by Kyung-Wha Chung with the LSO under Lawrence Foster from 1974 at the Kingsway Hall, London on Decca.  

The grand duet La Muse et le Poète for violin, cello with piano accompaniment was composed in around 1909/10 in Port Said, Egypt. It was inscribed in memory of Mme. J. Henry Caruette who was an admirer of the composer. The musical dialogue between the pair of instruments features the cello as the poet and the violin its muse. Violinist Eugène Ysaÿe and cellist Joseph Hollmann premièred the work in London with the composer later orchestrating the score into the version played here. One of the few examples of the double concerto design La Muse et le Poète,Op. 132 is only infrequently performed today. Renaud Capuçon and brother Gautier are playing the score for the first time. Their alliance conveys ripe tenderness and a sense of poetry that fits the disposition of this intimate music like a glove. Marginally I prefer this Erato account by the Capuçon siblings to the sensitive 1999 Hamburg account from violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis accompanied by the NDR Sinfonieorchester under Christoph Eschenbach on RCA Red Seal. 

Saint-Saëns composed a number of scores for the cello and his Concerto No. 1 is finest of his two cello concertos. Written in 1872 for its dedicatee the Belgium cellist Auguste Tolbecque the score is rightly regarded as one of the best loved cello concertos in the repertoire. Gautier Capuçon regards the score as, “one of the essential concertos. It comes from the height of Romanticism.” Sunny and suffused with colour in the French impressionist manner this A minor score is compact in structure. Cast in one continuous movement it has three distinct sections. Capuçon plays with expressive drama and a firm control throughout. There is such fluency in the stormy Allegro non troppo section and the yearning Allegretto con moto,played with such poise and generosity, displays the dark rich tone of the Goffriller cello to sublime effect. Capuçon is clearly inspired by the appealing buoyancy of the closing Allegro section with its dazzling Coda providing a stunning conclusion. It’s not surprising that this showpiece Concerto has been recorded many times over the years. Consequently there are several excellent established versions. This splendid Erato account is worthy of comparison with the two recordings that I have admired for some time. There is the compelling 1992 Blackheath, London version from Steven Isserlis with the LSO under Michael Tilson Thomas on RCA Red Seal. Add to this the passionately played 1975 release from Paul Tortelier with the CBSO conducted by Louis Frémaux on EMI Classics.
 
Renaud and Gautier Capuçon provide stunning performances of elevated quality that stand comparison with the finest recordings around. Under Lionel Bringuier the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France provides warm and uncommonly sympathetic support. This all-French production has contributed one of the finest discs I have heard this year.
 
Michael Cookson 

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