CD No: ONYX 4091 Duration: 64 minutes Reviewed: June 2012
Saint-Saëns Orchestral Music – Augustin Dumay & Pavel Gomziakov [Onyx]
Reviewed by Antony Hodgson
Augustin Dumay is enjoying a distinguished career as a violinist and now a conductor. In the latter capacity he is here in charge of a remarkable Eastern orchestra, notable for its glowing tone and ability to produce subtle dynamics, in particular the softest of pianissimos.
It is as violinist that Dumay is first heard, making a most elegant entry in La Muse et le Poète: a rhapsodic work in which violin and cello weave their way eloquently within a rich, luxurious accompaniment. It is surprising to encounter such an indulgent atmospheric work from this composer. The enchanting sound-pictures created in this music aptly match the fanciful title (provided by the publisher). Sachio Fujioka is at one with the soloists, whose contributions are in their way virtuosic, despite their quietness. This is summer-afternoon music.
Dumay takes over as conductor for the Cello Concerto and his expert accompaniment enables Pavel Gomziakov, whose intonation is immaculate throughout, to be immensely expressive, using his technique to mark dynamic contrasts strikingly and to cope with Saint-Saëns's occasional flights into the violin range. Especially in the first movement the speeds are surprisingly fast. Despite its minor key, the work is one of joyfulness.
Saint-Saëns was 21 when he composed his first published Symphony and already his style is assured and very individual. All is optimism from the very beginning of the Adagio introduction which flows forward and runs seamlessly into the Allegro. This is almost Classical in form except for a central section where there is a brief diversion into darkness before cheerfulness. The second movement is a ‘Marche-Scherzo’, which turns out to be the lightest and merriest of country dances. Saint-Saëns again changes style for the following Adagio, which reminds of Tchaikovsky. It has a beautiful opening: it is as if the listener were watching a ballet with the Lilac Fairy about to appear. I am impressed with the way Dumay fashions this elegant music and the long, gentle link to the finale is played with the utmost delicacy.
Now, this Symphony is dated 1856 so the youngish Saint-Saëns (he was thirty and died a very old man in 1921) could not have been influenced by Tchaikovsky who was only sixteen at the time but the Russian composer continues to be brought to mind. A French-style march continues for a while until halfway through the last movement when an entirely new theme, festive and grand, is used in a fugal manner. Traditional advice to a young composer is often "when in doubt write a fugue". Well, Saint-Saëns does just that but not because he is in any uncertainty. The full scoring of the final pages displays the strength of this fine orchestra and Dumay drives the music to an exciting conclusion.
I find the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra something of a revelation and its tone is very European. The realistic recording provides a comfortable, warm tone to enhance the dreaminess of La Muse and the power of the Symphony while also achieving an ideal balance in respect of the soloists.