Having already mastered such French concertos as Poulenc’s on record, the French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie and Edward Gardner now explore with the BBC Philharmonic the vigorous and progressive world of Camille Saint-Saëns, offering the first of two volumes to contain his complete piano concertos.
The brilliance, virtuosity, and technical perfection of Louis Lortie’s playing encapsulate these unusual, yet exhilarating works. While the spirited, unconventional Concerto No. 1 centres round a slow movement consisting of a dialogue between the sober orchestra and virtuosic piano, the technical requirements of No. 2 are so high that Saint-Saëns himself after its premiere admitted that his fluent technique was not quite up to the challenge. Finally, the unusual form and mixed musical ideas of No. 4 make for a uniquely dramatic, passionate, and dream-like experience.
The Rhapsodie d’Auvergne comes as a relevant addition to the disc, its folk influences and cheerful orchestral colours supported by the piano’s fluent decorations, sounding like a running stream in contrast to a disenchanting Paris that at the time of the work’s composition was acquiring a reputation for its noise, smells, and bitter rivalries.
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"No. 4 offers more fun and games, crowned with a catchy melody finally set free from the formal straightjackets audible elsewhere. Throughout, Lortie and orchestra prove a good team, nimble and bright, bouncing with virtuoso bravura."