Jun Märkl / L'Orchestre National de Lille

Saint-Saëns: Symphonic Poems

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The reputation of Camille Saint-Saëns is recovering from decades of self-serving modernist depredations, and it's becoming clear that much of his prolific output contains gems that are on a plane with his comparative handful of popular works. Here the popular one is the final Danse Macabre, Op. 40, but the rest of the program is so strong that the delightful Halloweener has the flavor of an encore. The program doesn't even consist entirely of symphonic poems. Two of the best finds are the adjacent Serenade and Rigaudon, Op. 93, Nos. 1 and 2, perfectly formed apotheoses of Baroque genres that embody the neoclassic idea well in advance of its actual beginnings (sample these, which are not commonly played). The symphonic poems themselves are fun and evocative enough that you might have a shot at guessing them without titles or other guidance. Two deal with the young Hercules, and make you wish Saint-Saëns had written an opera on this theme. The glittering Phaéton, Op. 39, serves as an overture to match the closing Danse Macabre and lays out the sufficiently silky tones of the Orchestre National de Lille with its German conductor, Jun Märkl. A thoroughly enjoyable three-quarters of an hour of music.

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