Members of the Orchestre de Paris

Saint-Saëns: Complete Chamber Music with Winds

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With this two-disc album featuring Camille Saint-Saëns, the French label Indesens continues its series of sets of chamber music with winds by French composers. The selections here include primarily pieces for a solo instrument and piano (including some transcriptions) and also small ensembles. The most unusual is a septet for trumpet, strings, and piano, written in 1880. It's the least characteristic and also least successful work on the album. Most of the works are marked by the Romantic warmth and generous lyricism for which the composer is known, but the septet, essentially a neo-classical concerto for trumpet and chamber ensemble, seems like a piece of academic music, notable more for the cleverness of its counterpoint than for its inspiration. The other pieces are consistently delightful, sometimes astonishingly so. Transcribing "The Swan" from the Carnival of the Animals for contrabassoon and piano sounds just plain eccentric, but result is gorgeous, especially played as well as it is here by Yves d'Hau, and the version of "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix," for bassoon and piano, is also surprisingly effective. The five solos works that make up the second disc, all from 1920 and 1921, sound like they could have been written 50 years earlier, but they are all immensely appealing pieces that should be of interest to any fan of Romantic chamber music. The performances by soloists from the Orchestre de Paris are exemplary in their technical polish and nuanced musicality. The sound is adequate but not especially lively or present.

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