Berlioz famously said about him: “He knows everything but lacks inexperience.” A musical prodigy, a formidable pianist and organist, an accomplished composer by early in his teens, a respected member of the 19th century French musical establishment, rightly or wrongly perceived as an avowed reactionary or as an forward-thinking visionary, an iconic personage worshipped by Fauré and derided by Debussy, a giant who abhorred early 20th century musical trends, a fan of Wagner, Camille Saint-Saëns was a larger-than-life éminence grise whose contributions to music can either be hated or embraced but definitely not ignored. Prolific to a fault and wide-ranging in his musical interests, Saint-Saëns remains a towering figure in 19th century musical Romanticism.
BIS has released a new album of music by Camille Saint-Saëns (BIS 2400 SACD), featuring pianist Alexandre Kantorow. The impressively gifted Frenchman is accompanied by the Tapiola Sinfonietta, led by his father, conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow.
The BIS recording includes the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 17 and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22, both delivered by the younger Kantorow with supreme authority and extraordinary technique. Also featured are the Allegro appassionato, Op. 43, the Valse-Caprice Wedding Cake for piano and strings, the Rhapsodie d’Auvergne op. 73 for piano and orchestra, and the Fantasy for piano and orchestra, Africa, op. 89.
Kantorow travels comfortably between the two piano concertos and the lighter fare, playing with elegant conviction and dazzling bravura regardless of the heavier or lighter nature of the work, with neither a hint of condescension in the Valse-Caprice Wedding Cake, nor scholarly superciliousness in the folksy Rhapsodie d’Auvergne, nor holier-than-thou White European superiority in the ethnically-charged Africa. The elder Kantorow stands at the podium of the Tapiola Sinfonietta taking the lead when needed and providing sensitive accompanying when required.
Rafael de Acha (c) 2022