Saint-Saens, Purcell and Mozart CDs reviewed


SAINT-SAËNS EDITION: Various artists ★★★★

This bumper 34 CD box set includes 600 works and contains many fine recordings with French performers dominating. The five symphonies are in the safe hands of conductor Jean Martinon with soloist Marie-Claire Alan in No.3 the Organ symphony. The five piano concertos are elegantly handled by Jean-Philippe Collard, with the RPO under Previn, in fine EMI digital 1980s sound. The violin concertos are equally good with Renaud Capuçon amongst the soloists. 'Samson et Dalila' appears twice: the magnificent 1963 recording under Prêtre with toweringly heroic Jon Vickers and magisterial Rita Gorr and a 1946 recording under Fourestier, smaller scale but more idiomatically French. Chamber and solos works are catered for and you can hear the composer on a 1919 acoustic recording. N.B. The Piano Quintet (disc 15 track 8) is marred by a mastering error. Purchasers have complained but so far no acknowledgment, apology or recompense from Warner Classics.

Norman Stinchcombe


Robert King recorded all Purcell's Odes in an eight album series for Hyperion which were highly regarded and are still in the catalogue after thirty years. Now he is recording them for Vivat of which this is the second disc. What's the difference? Texts have been revised in line with the latest scholarship and King has a new generation of singers at his disposal, and very fine they are too: Carolyn Sampson, Emily Owen (soprano), Iestyn Davies, Hugh Cutting (countertenor), Charles Daniels, David de Winter (tenor), Matthew Brook, Edward Grint (bass-baritone). Despite their talent, and the Consort's reliable instrumental support, the Odes are often musically uninspired as Purcell was busy with other projects. Texts are mostly risible in both expression and sentiment as in 'Arise my Muse' with King William urged to conquer 'the vulgar and small' and teach the 'savages...loyalty and sense'. Those are the Irish Catholics of course.

Norman Stinchcombe

MOZART WIND CONCERTOS: Principals of the London Symphony Orchestra ★★★

Mozart was a master of the wind-band with his ingenious, often operatic, use of wind instruments. This two disc set, taped at concerts, is a pleasant little survey of some highlights – compromised by some odd choices. The finest is the Serenade No.10 'Gran Partita' performed by twelve members of the LSO Wind Ensemble plus Colin Paris on double bass. It's a wonderful piece, the LSO players revelling in its varied moods and styles from delicate to rumbustious. At its heart is a meltingly beautiful Adagio with the LSO's oboe, clarinet and basset horn in a magical triumvirate. The easy-going Oboe Concerto is well played by Olivier Stankiewicz as is the Clarinet Concerto by Andrew Marriner. But why didn't Marriner use Mozart's original version for basset clarinet with the extra chalumeau notes? Timothy Jones is masterly in the Horn Concerto No.2 but the workaday Sinfonia Concertante K297b is almost certainly spurious.

Norman Stinchcombe

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