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Saint-Saëns: Cello Concertos, Carnival of the Animals - Mørk / Lortie / Mercier / Järvi

Saint-Saëns: Cello Concertos, Carnival of the Animals - Mørk / Lortie / Mercier / Järvi

Chandos  CHSA 5162

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Saint-Saëns: Cello Concertos 1 & 2; Caprice-Valse*, Op. 76 "Wedding cake"; Africa*, Op. 89; Le Carnaval des animaux*/**

Truls Mørk (cello)
Louis Lortie* & Hélène Mercier** (pianos)
Alasdair Malloy (glass harmonica)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Neeme Järvi


The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Neeme Järvi present this unusual collection of popular works by Saint-Saëns, for orchestra and piano or cello.

Truls Mørk, this season Artist in Residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, is the soloist in the two contrasted cello concertos. His ‘seemingly flawless technical command’ is tested in the suave, expressive, famous No. 1 as well as in the many taxing solo passages, huge leaps, and double-stopping flourishes of No. 2.

The indefatigable duo Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier join in the posthumously published Carnival of the Animals, after a highly successful recording of Concertos by Poulenc with Edward Gardner, Disc of the Week in The Sunday Times. They offer the original version, which features a glass harmonica (normally substituted by a glockenspiel). Louis Lortie is also the soloist in the entertaining fantasia Africa, which incorporates folk tunes of the different countries in which it was composed and which is brought off with consummate zest, as well as in the most characteristic and probably challenging of the composer’s keyboard pieces, the Caprice-Valse Wedding-cake, written for the second wedding of the composer’s virtuosic pianist friend Caroline Montigny-Rémaury.

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Reviews (1)
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Review by John Broggio - December 23, 2015

Having expressed considerable reservations about Neeme Järvi's last outing in French repertoire, it was with some trepidation that this played. Fortunately, these fears were entirely unjustified and we are treated to 75 minutes of wonderful music making.

The disc opens with the two cello concertos, in which Truls Mørk is a wonderfully persuasive advocate, especially in the second concerto which can easily be waylaid by the extraordinary amount of double-stopping called for by Saint-Saëns. Not here though - everything is as fleet-as-foot as one wish for in the solo parts and the response give to Järvi's direction by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is commensurate with the cello line.

The Carnival of the Animals follows and having spent some time enjoying the chamber ensemble version, it was wonderful to hear the Bergen strings respond with such a light touch. Throughout the ear is drawn (by the musicians, not the engineering team) to the myriad of detail that Louis Lortie, Hélène Mercier and orchestra bring to this delightful score. The use of a glass harmonica in the Aquarium is wonderfully caught and really makes it stand out. Perhaps more than anything, any recording of this work that can be returned to again and again must have a sense of humour. The strings under Järvi's baton are suitably deadpan in Tortoises but deliver uproarious braying in the Long-Eared Characters and while the pianists are perhaps stretching things a little far in Pianists, one can hear equally if not more exaggerated playing elsewhere. Truls Mørk returns to provide a wonderful "cameo" in the Swan before a wonderfully joyous finale.

As a pair of encores, Louis Lortie takes centre stage to give sparkling accounts of both the "Wedding Cake" and Africa; in both, Järvi's direction is as inspired as his soloist, the Bergen orchestra responding with obvious affection and enjoyment.

The sound is as rich and clear as one has come to expect from the Chandos team in this hall, so this release must be highly commended indeed.

Copyright © 2015 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Comments (6)
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Comment by hiredfox - December 24, 2015 (1 of 6)

Um! Energetic but ultimately bland conducting by Jaarvi allied to an over-enthusiastic use of spot-lighting and reverb and a poor balance of the sound-stage add up to an instantly disappointing and forgettable survey of Saint-Saën favourites. A highlight if there is one is Trul Mørks performance in the First Cello Concerto which has genuine moments of inspiration but it is not enough to force a recommendation of the disc as a whole.

This listener is growing increasingly frustrated by Jaarvi's Pick & Mix programming of the works of individual composers which he seems to reel off at the drop of a hat. Sadly it is proving to be quantity over quality, which is a shame as this orchestra is far more accomplished than it is allowed to be with this kind of churn-em-out repertory and a visiting conductor. Who is to blame for this state of affairs - Chandos, Jaarvi or some modern consumers who lack the ability to sit and listen to music for more than a few minutes at a time - is anybody's guess.

Comment by Euell Neverno - December 29, 2015 (2 of 6)

"75 minutes of wonderful music making" per reviewer John Broggio
"Energetic but ultimately bland conducting" and "an instantly disappointing and forgettable survey of Saint-Saën favourites" per commenter hiredfox

"The sound is as rich and clear as one has come to expect from the Chandos team in this hall" per reviewer John Broggio
"an over-enthusiastic use of spot-lighting and reverb and a poor balance of the sound-stage" per commenter hiredfox

JUST WHOM ARE WE TO BELIEVE??

Comment by hiredfox - January 1, 2016 (3 of 6)

I guess Euell your own ears will be the best judge in the end but agree such diverse opinions are perplexing to a potential buyer.

If it helps - and you may recall this from the good old days of the SA-CD.net Forum - I listen in HQ stereo in a dedicated room using a SA7-S1 with Paganini master reference clock, Music First Reference Passive pre-amps, Krell FPB 450Mcx mono-blocks and Martin Logan Summit X speakers. My default position (what pleases me) on which all my assessment are made is what I hear in concert halls from purely acoustic instruments in their true positions and perspectives.

If you are looking for a realistic portrayal of concert hall sound then go for me! Others may well have different criteria and goals for assessing SQ, it is after all what pleases them.

Happy New Year and it's good to know you are still here!

Comment by Stephen Best - January 3, 2016 (4 of 6)

"I listen in HQ stereo ..."

The recording was multichannel and John's review was for the multichannel portion of the disc. In my experience listening in stereo (and this includes headphones) engenders more a focus on the abstraction of reproduction than an involvement in the music-making as a whole. In other words with multichannel you're more likely to be swept into the experience rather than worrying about minutiae. Though the catalogue of recordings today is predominately stereo I encourage listening in multichannel where available.

Also, there is no place for egos here. Audio is, and always has been, a subjective hobby pursued (I would presume) for individual pleasure and enlightenment, each to their own priorities and budget.

Comment by Euell Neverno - January 5, 2016 (5 of 6)

Referring to Steven Best's comment, I'm not sure what distinction is being drawn between "abstraction" re. stereo listening and "involvement" re. multichannel listening. I can accept that multichannel may well be, in general, MORE involving than stereo, but stereo listening is not uninvolving and certainly not abstract, at least my experience. It could be that, as regards this particular recording, the quality of the sound is so far inferior in stereo as to have precipitated hirdfox's negative observations on the sound. Or, as he concedes, he wants a recording to resemble as much as possible a live performance without spotlighting, etc., which may not correspond to the expectations of others.

We can certainly accept as well that two individuals may have quite different takes on the quality of the conducting. And, that is precisely what we have here. In no other field of artistic endeavor are critics so often coming from disparate directions than in music.

So, while I found it amusing to point out the opposite takes of John Brogio and hiredfox, it cannot be gainsaid that there is anything unnatural going on. We all find it more useful, of course, when opinions are more or less uniform.

Comment by John Broggio - January 9, 2016 (6 of 6)

I didn't find either of those aspects that frustrated Mr Fox; I've previously stated when I've disappointed by recordings from this conductor - to these ears, those traits were missing here.

To each his own!