Saint-Saens - Symphony no.1, Symphony in A major, Carnival of the Animals
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Cat No: CDA68223
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 29th November 2019
WorksCarnival of the Animals
Symphony in A major
Symphony no.1 in E flat major, op.2
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The final release in the cycle has similar strengths. It combines the early Symphony in A major, written around 1850 when Saint-SaŽns was just 15, with the Symphony no.1 in E flat, op.2, of just three years later. If neither work has quite the individual stamp of the composerís later music, they are still by any but the most exceptional standards remarkable works for a musician still in his teens, showing a fine feeling for orchestral colour and a gift for unpretentious but engaging melodies that remained with Saint-SaŽns throughout his life. The A major Symphony shows the unmistakable influences of Schubert and Mozart (the famous four-note tag from the finale of the latterís ĎJupiterí Symphony features prominently in the first movementís Allegro vivace), and above all Mendelssohn, whose spirit hovers over the Larghetto slow movement as well as the lively Finale, which requires fantastically nimble work from the strings and woodwind that the Utah players positively relish. The classically-hued Scherzo (just flute, oboe and strings) is a similarly happy creation, with hints of early Beethoven in its good-humoured twists and turns.
By the time of the Symphony No.1, Saint-SaŽns was already beginning to find his own voice, and the sureness with which the Adagio slow introduction opens and then develops into an Allegro with martial tinges, coupled with the enlarged orchestral forces, reveal an easy confidence in the emerging French Romantic idiom. There are echoes of Gounod and even Berlioz, and Fischer is excellent at highlighting, without exaggeration, such imaginative touches as the divided timpani, placed antiphonally to excellent effect. The Marche-Scherzo of the second movement has an unexpected and delightful rustic feel. There are shades of Berliozís Harold en Italie here, as well as a Mendelssohnian lightness to the upper wind, who play consistently well throughout the disc.
The Adagio third movement is a gorgeous piece, with tremolo strings plus harps creating some magical textures, and a sustained lyricism in a gently lilting 9/8 metre that is completely captivating, especially when played as delicately as it is here. The Finale returns to the martial rhythms and tone of the first movement, but with further expanded brass and percussion, thrillingly set up by quietly anticipatory opening bars. The momentum climaxes in a closing fugue that, as Roger Nichols points out in his excellent booklet notes, anticipates something of the thrill of the Third Symphony, still three decades away. Fischer and the Utah Symphony are at their most exciting here, while always preserving the excellent tone that places them comfortably among the top American orchestras of the present day.
For this final disc in the series, the generous filler is that perennial favourite, Le Carnaval des animaux of 1886. With so many rival accounts playing up the humorous aspects of the score, Fischer instead gives us a reading that emphasises the workís fundamental musicality. None of the many Ďjokesí are forced, allowing the wit to emerge more gently. There is fabulous textural clarity to the ĎAquariumí movement, and pianists Jason Hardink and Kimi Kawashima are among the performanceís many strengths, their Ďstraightí playing in the ĎPianistesí movement fitting in well with Fischerís overall symphonic conception of the piece. Much more than usual, one notices the steady overall arc of the work, for example in the pairing of the slow movements featuring Tortoises and the Elephant. A bracingly lively collection of Fossils leads with well-judged inevitability to a beautifully understated account of ĎLe Cygneí featuring the excellent principal cello of Rainer Eudeikis, and Fischer and his musicians finally let their hair down in a Finale that is all the more effective for the foregoing restraint.
For those wanting a complete set of Saint-SaŽnsís symphonies in excellent modern sound, with consistently musical performances from a top-notch band, this Utah cycle is now a most tempting proposition, and a notable addition to the current catalogue. Congratulations to all involved!
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