The general effort of the Naxos label to record forgotten music of the later 19th century has served Camille Saint-Saëns especially well: He was a prolific composer whose works almost always reveal something fresh. This is true even though he was increasingly regarded as a conservative over the course of his career, ignoring the contemporary developments of Debussy and the Viennese. Sample the prime attraction here, the delightful Suite in D major, Op. 49, especially the somewhat Bachian Baroque dance movements, and you can't help but think how the whole neoclassic impulse would have been impossible half a century later without this music. After the dance movements comes a very lovely Romance and a vigorous finale. Saint-Saëns wrote a good deal of music in this vein; the Suite in D minor, Op. 16bis, is also not well-known and is nearly as elegant. The final Serenade in E flat major, Op. 15, is an orchestral version of a chamber work with harmonium; of course, this is an orchestral album, but, given that a harmonium should be available in any good antique shop, it's a bit hard to understand why it isn't more often played on recordings. Only the opening Suite algérienne, Op. 60, disappoints; by the 1870s, other composers had come much more deeply to grips with non-European music. Jun Märkl and the Basque National Orchestra are ideal interpreters of Saint-Saëns, restrained but with real grace, and the strings in this little-known orchestra rise to the occasion. A nice find for lovers of French music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Suite algérienne, Op. 60|
|Suite in D major, Op. 49|
|Suite in D minor, Op. 16bis (Version for cello and orchestra)|