Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto no 3, etc / Bakels, Kantorow

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SAINT-SAËNS Violin Concerto No. 3. 1,3,5 Caprice d’après l’Étude en forme de Valse (arr. Ysaÿe). 1,3,5 Caprice andalous. 1,3,5 Le déluge: Prélude. 4,5 Valse caprice, op. 76, “Wedding Cake.” 2,4,5 Allegro appassionato, op. 70. 2,4,5 Jean-Jacques Kantorow (vn); 1 Heini Kärkkäinen (pn); 2 Kees Bakels, cond; 3 Jean-Jacques Kantorow, cond; 4 Tapiola Sinfonietta 5 BIS 1470 (61:43)

Jean-Jacques Kantorow has recorded Saint-Saëns’s two other violin concertos on BIS 860, which I reviewed in 21:6 and on BIS 1060, which I also reviewed, in 25:5. In the first case, it seemed to me that Kantorow exaggerated rhythms “until they become irritating,” and, in the second, that he provided an attractive alternative to either Ruggiero Ricci or Philippe Graffin in this least initially ingratiating of Saint-Saëns’s violin concertos. Kantorow is aggressively piquant in the Third Concerto as well, but the competition’s stiffer, with Arthur Grumiaux having made two recordings of it and Nathan Milstein, one—in addition to Zino Francescatti’s legendary account, which the work’s admirers should find in equal parts more noble and less racy. While Kantorow slashes with abandon in the first movement and wheedles intimately in the second, he comes into his own in the third, exhibiting greater accentual restraint yet stunning technical aplomb in passagework that defies the notes’ assessment that those seeking traditional virtuosity in this work will be disappointed. As in the slow movement, he reveals the rich lyricism of the finale’s reflective interludes. Center stage, Graffin creates an impression of cogency in this last movement for which mannerisms in the headlong first movement and the occasionally languorous slow movement hardly prepare. The orchestral support, represented in resonant and wide-ranging recorded sound, buoys the soloist throughout, providing both moments of sensitive repose and sonorous bustle.

I’ve most frequently heard Eugène Ysaÿe’s transcription for violin and orchestra of Saint-Saëns’s solo piano étude in an arrangement for violin and piano. In orchestral garb, the work bears greater affinity to Saint-Saëns’s violin concertos; and although Kantorow’s reading may seem brittle compared with Oistrakh’s breathtaking one with pianist Vladimir Yampolsky, the orchestral accompaniment virtually transforms the piece, with the violin lighting the stratosphere with pyrotechnics against a colorful orchestral backdrop, all in the grand manner of Henri Vieuxtemps (Ysaÿe’s teacher). The Caprice andalous , which Dong Suk Kang included in his collection on Naxos 8.550752, 18:2 (which also included the Third Concerto—Kang’s performance of the Caprice, and of the Concerto, sounds especially refined and elegant after hearing Kantorow’s more urgent and slightly more mannered ones), seems to be Saint-Saëns’s most overtly Spanish number, although he had embodied Pablo Sarasate’s musical personality with greater or lesser success in the Havanaise and Introduction and rondo capriccioso as well as in the Third Concerto. The work’s ethnicity and its brilliant writing for the soloist, especially at the conclusion, may overcome for listeners any resistance to what they deem less immediately appealing thematic material. And certainly Kantorow makes the most of opportunities for display.

Just as BIS’s volume surrounding the First Concerto included the Sarabande for string orchestra, op. 93/1, and the recording of the Second Concerto included Spartacus and La muse et le poète for violin, cello, and orchestra, this third volume in what appears to be a series includes the more austere Prélude to Le déluge (in which Kantorow extracts from the orchestra a nostalgic sentiment that goes beyond the suggestive violin solo) and a rambustious performance by Heini Kärkkäinen of the Valse caprice , op. 76. As in the works for violin, the engineers have placed the soloist center stage, but the depth and definition of the orchestral sound ensures that the accompaniment never degenerates into a drop cloth merely catching splotches of color the soloist insouciantly sprinkles. The program concludes with the bumptious Allegro appassionato , op. 70, with bubbling high spirits at its center.

Although Kantorow’s reading of the first two movements of the Third Violin Concerto may seem just too headlong and too diffuse, respectively, for some listeners, the bracing third nearly redeems them, and the other two bravura works for violin (Ysaÿe’s in its stirring orchestral setting)—to say nothing of the additional pieces in affecting readings led stylishly by Kantorow and, in the last two, played brightly and energetically by Kärkkäinen—tip the balance in the recording’s favor. Recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Product Description:

  • Release Date: November 01, 2006

  • Catalog Number: BIS-CD-1470

  • UPC: 7318590014707

  • Label: BIS

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns, Eugène Ysaÿe

  • Conductor: Jean-Jacques Kantorow, Kees Bakels

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Tapiola Sinfonietta

  • Performer: Heini Kärkkäinen, Jean-Jacques Kantorow