Jean-Yves Thibaudet / Charles Dutoit

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 5

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The combination of artist and repertoire represented on this disc seems inevitable in retrospect. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, surely the most coruscating French pianist of his generation, had already proven his worth in numerous recordings of French solo piano music for Decca, and turning to French works for piano and orchestra was only a matter of time. And choosing Charles Dutoit, the most accomplished French conductor of his generation, as his accompanist was likewise inevitable. Having already recorded the orchestral works of Berlioz, Franck, Ravel, Debussy, and Saint-Saëns, he was uniquely qualified to support Thibaudet. Indeed, they get along together like oil and vinegar, joining and separating as best serves to accent the pungent flavors of these savory works. The vivacious tunes of Saint-Saëns' Second Concerto's Presto Finale have rarely sounded so light footed and high spirited, and the antique scales and exotic colors of his "Egyptian" Concerto's Presto Finale have never sounded so evocative and weirdly compelling. Nor has the blazing virtuosity of Franck's Variations symphoniques often been so brilliantly articulated as under Thibaudet's strong but supple hands. Old timers might look back fondly on Rubinstein's aging recordings of the Saint-Saëns, but while contemporary listeners will be impressed by the older performances, they are likely to be blown away by these. Decca's digital sound is crisp, clear, and, as suits the music, vividly colorful.

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