Friday, October 9, 2020

Saint-Saëns‘ cello

No. 345 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


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Today marks Camille Saint-Saëns' birthday )born OTD in 1835) and to celebrate, I created a montage of works he composed for Cello and orchestra.

Saint-Saëns was a pianist and organist or renown, but he did compose worls for violin and for cello at different times during a career that spanned into the earky 20th century.

The First Cello Concerto has long been one of Saint- Saëns’s most popular pieces,; although officially written in one continuous movement, such a description is misleading in that the music follows concerto convention by dividing the music into three distinct sections, with a fast-slow-fast structure. It is only in one movement inasmuch as each movement continues without a pause. The performance chosen  here today, featuring canadian cellist Shauna Rolston, was the one remaining work from a CBC recording she made with the Calgary Philharmonic under Mario Bernardi (the other works on the album were featured in past montages).

While the First Cello Concerto was written during a period of post-war social readjustment, the Second—composed three decades later in 1902—came at a time of significant upheavals in the French musical landscape. This was the year that saw the premiere of Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande, a work that was not to the taste of Saint-Saëns, nor to many other critics of the time. Saint-Saëns’ new cello concerto was even less successful, with one critic denouncing it after its premiere on 5 February 1905 as ‘bad music well written’—a phrase that plagued the composer’s music for years. A principle objection was the physical demands made of the soloist. Joseph Hollman (1852–1926), was an energetic, muscular player, and Saint-Saëns sought to exploit these characteristics, but to the detriment of its reception. Although performances and recordings of the Second Cello Concerto have become more frequent in recent years, it is still greatly overshadowed by the First, and this is in no small part due to the music’s considerable technical difficulties with many solo passages, huge leaps, and runs that require two staves to accommodate them.

Remaining pieces on the album are shorter concertante works, inclusing the Swan from the Carnival of the Animals. The exception is the Suite in D minor, originally conceived for cello and piano, but was revised and orchestrated in 1919 (Saint-Saëns wrote two new movements for the orchestral version, the Gavotte and the Tarentelle).

I think you will love this music too.

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