Natalie Clein / Andrew Manze / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

The Romantic Cello Concerto, Vol. 5: Saint-Saëns

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Vol. 5 in Hyperion's series, The Romantic Cello Concerto, presents two concertos by Camille Saint-Saëns, along with three of his shorter works for the instrument, La muse et le poète, the Allegro appassionato, and Le cygne from La carnaval des animaux. A brilliant composer with a hand in every genre, Saint-Saëns was prolific in writing concertos and concertante pieces, and his Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor remains one of his most popular works, with many recordings available. However, there are reasons to explore the more challenging Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor, and though it is under-played, it warrants a place next to its beloved predecessor. To even the score, cellist Natalie Clein and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under Andrew Manze, give these concertos vigorous performances, and the fair-minded listener will grant the Concerto No. 2 its due. While Clein plays with tremendous agility and passion in the Concerto No. 1, and Saint-Saëns' transparent orchestration makes every note in the solo part audible, it's arguable that the Concerto No. 2 is a more rewarding experience, both for Clein's deeply felt playing and the richer music that Saint-Saëns provided. The solo part is less overtly flashy, but it is every bit as dramatic and even more lyrical, and the integration of the cello with the orchestral writing gives the work greater interest and an organic wholeness that is quite satisfying. While the earlier concerto is in no danger of becoming obscure, cellists may want to give the Concerto No. 2 serious consideration, and this exceptional performance is a good argument for programming it more often.

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