Saint-Saëns: Symphonic Poems CD review – immaculate miniatures brought to light

Orchestre National de Lille/Märkl
(Naxos)

Saint-Saëns wrote a prodigious quantity of music – 169 opus numbers that include 13 operas, a dozen concertante scores, and a profusion of chamber and keyboard works. He is one of the best-known names in the 19th-century French repertoire, but his reputation rests on a relatively small number of pieces, while outside his native country large portions of his output remain unexplored.

With one exception, Jun Märkl’s orchestral collection is made up of some of those unfamiliar works. Saint-Saëns’ four symphonic poems, all from the 1870s, provide its spine, and among them is the well-known Danse Macabre, the third of the poems to be composed (in 1874) and based on the legend of Death appearing at midnight on Halloween. Liszt’s 13 symphonic poems were the inevitable model. However, with the exception of the last, La Jeunesse d’Hercule, none of Saint-Saëns’ quartet has the heft of Liszt’s examples, and certainly none has the symphonic ambitions of some of the orchestral poems produced at more or less the same time by César Franck. There’s nothing here to match the dramatic power of Franck’s Le Chasseur Maudit.

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Source: theguardian
Saint-Saëns: Symphonic Poems CD review – immaculate miniatures brought to light