The unusual scoring (trumpet, piano, string quartet, double bass) of this septet may have limited its performances and recordings, but it's truly one of the most delightful chamber works of the nineteenth century. Saint-Saëns wrote it in 1881, for a Parisian music society called "La Trompette," and, given such a name, the composer could hardly have resisted working a trumpet into the piece. Inevitably, it becomes the dominant voice almost whenever it plays, but Saint-Saëns makes a valiant effort to keep the ensemble as balanced as possible. The septet takes the form of a Baroque suite, the composer paying homage especially to the colorful and elegant music of Rameau, whose collected works Saint-Saëns edited. Opening with an assertive chord for piano and strings, the first movement, Préambule, establishes an energetic and dynamic mood; the trumpet then emerges with a long, calming note, subsequently embarking on a mock-pompous processional theme accompanied by sharp chords and occasional piano flourishes. The last phrase of this march launches a little fugato section for everyone but the trumpet. The fugato eases into a smoother melody over a nervously pulsing accompaniment. The trumpet takes over this melody, then forces the full version of its march tune upon the group again. The movement ends in an atmosphere of Baroque pomp and ceremony, which is disturbed by the pianist's Lisztian cascades. Next comes a Minuet. With the trumpet leading the melody over a marcato accompaniment, this sounds more like a very quick march, but the strings offer a more sighing, Romantic second subject in which the trumpet participates as discreetly as possible. The movement's central trio section nicely melds the strings and trumpet into a single voice over a florid piano accompaniment for a flowing, sentimental waltz. Saint-Saëns calls the third movement Intermède. The strings and the trumpet, whose subdued, reticent expressiveness blends well with the strings, play a mysterious, long-breathed melody over a skulking, repeated-note piano accompaniment. That characteristic piano figure provides the basis for further melodic elaboration, after which the individual voices steal quietly into the shadows. The last movement, Gavotte et Finale, is a lively treatment of the eighteenth century dance, featuring considerable stretches of rapid up-front passagework for the piano over pizzicato figurations executed by the strings. The trumpet interjects some bugle calls that are imitated by the other instruments before the piano brings everyone back to the original material. Suddenly, the strings and piano plunge into a rapid, nervous fugato based on a little phrase from the first movement. The trumpet joins in, only to pull the ensemble into a headlong rush toward the final bar.
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Description by James Reel
- Gavotte et Finale
|2012||EMI Classics / Warner Classics||5099960231|
|2010||Opening Day Recordings||9379|
|2003||Erato / Virgin Classics||7243545603|