Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Camille Saint-Saens, Ensemble Musique Oblique|
Saint-SaŽns: Carnival of the Animals
Genres: Soundtracks, Classical
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Way Off the Beaten Path with Ensemble Musique Oblique
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I guess one way to get people to buy the obscure works of a famous composer is to program them along with one of the best-known works by that same composer. Well, if that will get more people to sample the byways of Saint-Saens' musical catalog, so be it. If you buy the current CD, you'll get an earnest, well-played version of the composer's rightly beloved Carnival of the Animals along with sparkling performances of two interesting works from the antipodes of Saint-Saens' long career.The Piano Quintet in A Minor is just such a work that occasioned the famous remark by Berlioz about Saint-Saens: "He knows everything, but he lacks inexperience." Written when Saint-Saens was twenty, it's precocious in a couple of ways. First of all, though it recalls Mendelssohn and especially Schumann and so is hardly groundbreaking for its time (1855), that it is the chamber work by a Frenchman makes it progressive. The French, inebriated with the opera at this point in the musical life of the their country, had almost no chamber music tradition to speak of after Cherubini, so Saint-Saens can be seen as among the vanguard of those who would give France a future in the sphere of chamber music. Secondly, although there are some oddities of composition that mean the piece doesn't hold together as well as it might (the perpetuum mobile scherzo sounds tossed off and unimportant after the weighty slow movement, and the fugal opening to the finale just doesn't work), the piece has some delectable melodies, plus a wonderfully dramatic and successful first movement and tender, compelling slow movement.
After all, even in his later career, Saint-Saens seemed not to know how to end a piece (take his popular Third Violin Concerto and near-great Fourth Piano Concerto as examples). So as is sometime the case with the French master, you must take the good with the bad if you want to enjoy Saint-Saens' often very satisfying art.From late in Saint-Saens' career comes music to accompany the 1908 movie "The Assassination of the Duke of Guise." I had always heard Saint-Saens was one of the first composers to write for film and have always wondered how his movie music would sound. Now I know, and I'm happy to have found out. The music is atmospheric, attractively written and scored, and even if you can only imagine the program without seeing the film that it was designed to accompany, this same objection could be made for most tone poems. So look at this as incidental music written by a composer at the height of his powers, and you'll get an idea of the quality of the piece.Then there is the Carnival of the Animals, which needs no introduction. In this performance, as in the others on this disc, the playing is first rate, even virtuosic, especially as captured in the close (but not problematically so), vivid recording. I think some of the movements are taken a bit too slowly for maximum effect, so the "Royal March of the Lion," as well as "Tortoises" and "The Elephant," are somewhat bled of their mocking humor. But elsewhere the musicians get it just right, as in "Pianists" and in thrilling versions of "Fossils" and the grand finale, plus a lovely reading of "The Swan." On points, then, this is a pretty wonderful program for Saint-Saens devotees and those who want to be."