Camille Saint-Saëns

Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33

    Description by John Palmer

    The first performance of the Cello Concerto was given on January 19, 1873, at the Paris Conservatoire, then a bastion of conservatism that usually programmed only works by old or dead masters. The Conservatoire's acceptance of the concerto gives an idea of the esteem in which Saint-Saëns was held at the time.

    Formally, the Cello Concerto in A minor is an extension of the technique Saint-Saëns used for the much earlier Violin Concerto in A major of 1859. There are no pauses between the three sections of the Cello Concerto, although these are clearly delineated and have different tempo markings. Some analysts have described the work as a single, sonata-form movement with a free recapitulation, while others have suggested the work is a three-movement structure with shared material between the first and last movements. What is most important is the element of contrast as a driving force in the piece, which was composed not long after Saint-Saëns conducted performances of Liszt's symphonic poems. Saint-Saëns now began composing such works himself, such as the Danse macabre of 1874. Much of the bombast found in Liszt's tone poems, however, is absent from those by Saint-Saëns, but the idea of thematic transformation is an important element.

    Marked Allegro non troppo, the first movement begins with an aggressive melody built of triplets from the solo cello. The lyrical, meditative theme for the cello that follows is accompanied by the triplet figure in the orchestra. A new, Animato passage with double stops for the cello leads to an even faster tempo with yet another theme, this appearing in the orchestra and on F major. Just when it seems like this will be the new key, the opening triplet idea sounds again in the cello, but on D major, and development of the first and second themes ensues.

    After a rest just long enough for the cellist to take a breath, the second section, Allegretto con moto, begins with the orchestra. This segment is a delicate minuet with a narrow-range and stately melody. When the cello enters, it first sounds alone before the orchestra begins the minuet again beneath the cello's countermelody. After the cello takes up the minuet tune, there is a cadenza for the soloist, which leads to fragments of the minuet theme in different harmonies, finally settling on B flat as the Allegro tempo returns.

    The triplet theme from the first movement, now in the orchestra, opens the finale. Saint-Saëns varies this material to return to the tonic before a new idea, Un peu moins vite, sounds in the solo cello. Given forward impetus through syncopation, the rhythm is Sarabande-like until the cello takes off with a flurry of sixteenth notes that pushes the harmony away from A minor. Contrast is a salient feature of the rest of the piece, which behaves somewhat like a rondo. The opening triplet theme and the third theme of the first movement introduce the coda, which contains new material and closes the piece in A major.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro non troppo
    2. Allegretto con moto
    3. Allegro non troppo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Oehms Classics OC 1838
    2016 Chandos CHSA 5162
    2015 Audite AUDITE 95628
    2015 MSR Classics MS 1512
    2015 Brilliant Classics 94934BR
    2014 Sony Classical 88843047122
    2014 Decca
    2014 Hyperion CDA 68002
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Entertainment Group 14183
    2013 Praga PRD 350077
    2013 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 335
    2013 Erato 537889
    2013 Erato 5099993413428
    2013 Sony Classical 88765438572
    2012 Entertainment Group 4030
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962307
    2012 Decca / Mercury Living Presence 001653302
    2012 Entertainment Group 12803
    2012 Onyx ONYX 4091
    2012 The Entertainment Group 13101
    2012 Analekta AN 29881
    2012 Teldec 2564672076
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94098
    2011 Lipkind H 03
    2011 Sony Classical 88697539712
    2011 BBC Legends BBCL 50052
    2011 Pentatone / PentaTone Classics PTC 5186136
    2011 Eloquentia EL 1024
    2011 RCA Red Seal 86900
    2010 BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2010 Naïve 5246
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Sony Classical 88697714332
    2010 Mirare 108
    2010 Doremi / Doremi Records 6607
    2010 West Hill Radio Archives 6032
    2009 Sony Classical 752307
    2009 Naïve 40008
    2009 Colosseum / Zebralution
    2008 Berlin Classics 0012842BC
    2008 EMI Classics 5675932
    2008 Retrospective 93651
    2008 Sony Music Distribution 1009
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Classics 2130382
    2008 Berlin Classics 0115122
    2008 Haenssler 93222
    2008 Warner Classics
    2008 EMI Classics 09442
    2007 Apex
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950416
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4776505
    2007 Delos 3378
    2007 RCA Red Seal 75951
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon 477744
    2007 Decca 4758566
    2006 BBC Music 4198
    2006 Philips 000748202
    2006 Quartz 2039
    2006 Biddulph Recordings 80209
    2006 DHR 7711
    2005 Decca 4756327
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI
    2005 Cello Classics 1013
    2005 Brilliant 92771
    2005 Mercury 475 6621MSA
    2005 Rca Red Seal 65845
    2005 EMI Classics 4768672
    2005 EMI Classics 76868
    2004 Naïve 4969
    2003 Teldec 7453132
    2003 Centaur Records 2837
    2002 Doron Music 3035
    2002 Berlin Classics 0017432
    2002 Brilliant 99758
    2001 Angel Records 67594
    2001 CBC Records 5153
    2001 Iron Needle 1424
    2001 Channel Classics 16501
    2001 Channel Classics 16598
    2000 DG Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Distribution 457761
    2000 Philips 4681812
    2000 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243567341
    1999 BIS 956
    1999 Claves 500501
    1999 Danacord 422
    1999 Fono Enterprise 99344
    1999 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4273232
    1999 Arion 68347
    1998 DG Deutsche Grammophon 457599
    1997 Testament SBT1101
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 62876
    1997 Naxos 553039
    1996 Testament 1016
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 56126
    1996 RCA 68373
    1995 EMI Classics 724356848528
    1995 Valois 4754
    1994 IMP Classics 1084
    1994 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 7243568132
    1994 Vox 5084
    1993 ASV 867
    1993 RCA 61678
    1991 Mercury 432010
    1991 CBS Records 46506
    1989 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0777763283
    1989 CBS Records / Columbia 44562
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 49306
    Lys 380/381
    Russian Revelation 10062
    Finlandia
    RCA 61677
    Classica d'Oro 4003
    Garyn Studios
    Teldec 85340
    Claves 50501
    Testament 1361
    Monopoly 2051
    Russian Disc 11101
    Monitor (World) 72090
    Brilliant 92771/3
    Vox Allegretto 8143
    Lyrinx 116
    Canyon Classics 3694
    Testament 1371
    Disques Pierre Verany 730053
    Colosseum 340569
    Multisonic 310254
    Music du Jour
    Vox Prima 7155
    Finlandia 95872