One of the most grown-up review sites around


Search MusicWeb Here

     
  
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger             Senior Editor: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

Brahms Symphony 4 Dvorak Symphony 9
Peter Aronsky (piano) Les Délices du Piano"
IL Carnevale di Venezia Clarinet with orchestra

Sinfonie Concertanti


TUDOR RECORDS


an inspirational performance


An indispensable acquisition


The finest we have had in years


bewitching sound


Simply amazing


A splendid addition


One of the most enjoyable


quite superb!


utterly essential


A wonderful introduction


An outstanding CD


cheer-raising


One of the finest versions


Support us financially by purchasing this from

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphonic Poems
Phaéton – Symphonic Poem No. 2, Op. 39 (1873) [8:20]
Marche héroïque, Op. 34 (1870) [6:45]
La Jeunesse d’Hercule – Symphonic Poem No. 4, Op. 50 (1877) [15:57]
Le Rouet d’Omphale – Symphonic Poem No. 1, Op. 31 (1871) [8:05]
Sarabande, Op. 93, No. 1 (1892) [6:24]
Rigaudon, Op. 93, No. 2 (1892) [2:51]
Danse macabre – Symphonic Poem, No. 3, Op.40 (1874) [7:06]
Orchestre National de Lille/Jun Märkl
rec. 2016, Le Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France
NAXOS 8.573745 [55:28]

It is rare to find all four symphonic poems that Saint-Saëns composed on one CD. I had to go back to Neeme Järvi on Chandos issued in 2012 and before him Charles Dutoit (Decca). My first exposure to these works was from a treasured LP with the New York Philharmonic under Dimitri Mitropoulos in the 1950s. Thus, it is good to have them all again here in idiomatic performances, captured in exemplary sound. Two of the pieces appeared on a disc I reviewed in 2015 also on Naxos in Marc Soustrot’s Saint-Saëns symphony series. I rather liked his Danse macabre, but was less enamoured with La Jeunesse d’Hercule, which accompanied the early Symphony in F, finding it overextended for its material (review). What a difference a couple of minutes make! Soustrot’s lasts over 18 minutes, whereas Märkl accomplishes everything in less than 16. I still find this the weakest of the four symphonic poems, but at least Märkl manages to keep my attention. I can really appreciate the beautiful string introduction with muted violins and the woodwinds’ playful theme later on. The bacchanale that follows may be tame compared to the famous one in Samson and Delilah, but it adds interest to the score which has echoes of both Liszt and Mendelssohn.

Saint-Saëns’ attraction to the myth of Hercules, as the subject of La Jeunesse d’Hercule, is also present in the first of his symphonic poems, Le Rouet d’Omphale. Naxos’ depiction on the CD booklet cover of a Hercules sculpture makes some sense in this context, though here Hercules is punished for the murder of one of his guests and there were no spinning wheels before the Middle Ages. Apart from Danse macabre, Le Rouet d’Omphale appears more frequently on programmes than the other two tone poems, which is not all that often. Märkl clearly has the measure of this music. His Lille strings and woodwinds characterize the spinning wheel with lightness before the trombones portray the lamenting and groaning Hercules.

The true warhorse among these works, of course, is Danse macabre. While I appreciated Soustrot’s light touch, his account now seems to lack character compared to Märkl’s. I like this new performance even better than the older ones by Ormandy and Dutoit. Ormandy indeed seems rather heavy and slow, whereas Märkl comes up newly minted. His scordatura violin is just about perfect, as is the splendid horn solo halfway through the piece. The xylophone can be clearly heard, the oboe’s “cock’s crow” is excellent, and the loud percussion near the close is striking in its impact. This is the best Danse macabre I’ve heard in years.

The disc opens with Phaéton, the second of Saint-Saëns’ symphonic poems. The story behind this work concerns the son of the Greek sun god, Helios. To prove that he descended from Helios, Phaéton asks his father’s permission to drive his chariot for one day. Unfortunately, he is not able to control the horses and the earth becomes in danger of being burnt up by the sun. Therefore, Zeus strikes him down with a lightning bolt and he dies. The work ends with his funeral. Liszt’s influence is everywhere present in Phaéton, from the rhythmic string motif depicting the galloping horses to the brass interjections and funereal coda. At the same time, Phaéton possesses French sensibility rather than Lisztian bombast. The tone poem is brilliantly performed here with special mention owed to the horns and woodwinds.

This disc is filled out with the catchy Marche héroïque Saint-Saëns composed during the 1870-71 siege of Paris, as a symbol of resistance, and two dances he conceived in the Baroque style for a new edition of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s comédie-ballet, Le Malade imaginaire. These dances, Sarabande and Rigaudon, apparently served their function well, because they do not sound at all like Saint-Saëns but like typical nineteenth-century orchestrations of Baroque music. While these fillers are performed very well, it is a pity some other pieces, such as the tuneful Marche militaire française weren’t included. There was plenty of space on the disc. Never mind. Märkl’s idiomatic and appealing accounts of every work on the programme and Dominic Wells’ worthwhile notes, along with Naxos’ modest price, make this CD an irresistible bargain.

Leslie Wright

Previous reviews: Dan Morgan ~ John Whitmore



 

 




Advertising on
Musicweb



Donate and keep us afloat

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical


Nimbus Podcast


Obtain 10% discount


Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger