Romain Descharmes / Marc Soustrot / Malmö Symphony Orchestra

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 4; Piano Concerto No. 5, 'Egyptian'

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Several recordings of the Saint-Saëns piano concertos in the late 2010s have made the neglect of these works by self-serving modernists seem almost criminally actionable. Which version you pick may be a matter of personal taste, but the restrained style of the young French pianist Romain Descharmes is especially commendable (with budget Naxos prices, to boot) here in the Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, Op. 44, a work that seems to look forward to neoclassicism decades before the fact. The work is formally one of a kind. It begins with a kind of Baroque binary dance tossed back and forth between orchestra and piano, and varied. The material then develops and darkens, only to evolve mysteriously into an Andante closing section that serves the function of the traditional slow movement but is fully woven into what has gone before. The second and final movement also has a tripartite structure. It's the formal wit of the neoclassicists that Saint-Saëns anticipates, and conductor Marc Soustrot, leading the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, catches the exquisite mood. The opening movement Piano Concerto No. 5 in E major, Op. 103 ("Egyptian"), is a bit more diffuse in Descharmes' performance, but he has plenty in reserve to handle its Lisztian demands, and he's quite evocative in the middle movement that gives the concerto its nickname, and that is Javanese (music that Saint-Saëns dismissed but apparently had second thoughts about) as well as Egyptian. There is absolutely no reason these concertos, especially the Fourth, should not be as common as Schumann's on concert programs, and Descharmes and Soustrot have advanced the music toward this goal. Highly recommended.

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