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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, May 2011

Naxos’s single-disc compilation pares down the contents of the French Indésens set by omitting the Septet in E♭-Major for string quartet, double bass, trumpet, and piano; the Cavatine for trombone and piano; the Romance for flute and piano; the Odelette for flute and piano; and the Prayer for bassoon and piano. Also absent, though not missed, are three transcriptions—two from The Carnival of the Animals and one from Samson et Dalila—that were not wind works to begin with.

The Clarinet Sonata may be the most plaintive…the striking melody of its opening movement having a definite leave-taking quality about it. The oboe and bassoon pieces, expertly crafted and very beautiful, express, as Matthew Swann’s booklet note puts it, “calmness and austerity,” but they don’t, for me at least, communicate a sense of reflection or regret. Saint-Saëns lived a long and full life, one that was permanently marred, it’s true, by the tragic deaths of his two children, but one that was otherwise productive and fulfilling. At 86, he had no reason to feel cheated of years or disappointed by lack of success.

Saint-Saëns wrote two pieces for horn or cello and orchestra he titled Romance. The earlier of the two, in F Major, op. 36, dates from 1874. The later of the two, which is the one heard here in its version for horn and piano, is in E Major, op. 67, and dates from 1885.

The earliest piece on the disc is the 1857 Tarantelle. It too was originally an orchestral piece featuring solo flute and clarinet. No one suffering from arachnophobia need fear this friendly, playful spider. It sounds more like a slowed-down Flight of the Bumblebee than it does Mendelssohn’s somewhat more menacing tarantula in the Saltarello from his “Italian” Symphony.

Players of Canada’s National Arts Centre Wind Quintet are Joanna G’froerer, flute; Charles Hamann, oboe; Christopher Millard, bassoon; Kimball Sykes, clarinet; and Lawrence Vine, horn. They are joined by pianist Stéphane Lemelin. Performances and recording are excellent. For those who prefer their Saint-Saëns in smaller doses and at budget prices, this Naxos release is easily recommended.




Geoffrey Norris
Gramophone, March 2011

Gallic charm and exuberance in chamber works from the end of Saint-Saëns’s life

Saint-Saëns’s acute ear for the personality of particular instruments is nowhere more conspicuous than in the three sonatas that he composed in the last year of this life, 1921. These final forays into the realms of chamber music also show Saint-Saëns winnowing his style, so that, while still having recourse to the generous fund of lyricism on which he had always been able to capitalize, he now wrote with conscious economy of means.

The members of Canada’s National Arts Centre Wind Quintet appreciate and convey these facets in performances that encapsulate the Gallic charm and finesse of the music. At the same time, the Oboe Sonata’s mix of the pastoral and the perky is nicely established, as is the blend of warmth and bravura in the Clarinet Sonata, with its lowest register explored in the solemn Lento movement and its capacity for exuberance in the finale. In the Bassoon Sonata, Saint-Saëns again reveals his ability to write music of a character individually tailored to the instrument’s timbre and tonal palette, here within the context of piece that takes Baroque compositional principles as a model.

The unifying feature of this programme is the excellently judged piano playing of Stéphane Lemelin, who adds discerning range of colour and spirit to the performances, whether in the sonatas or in the lovely Romance for horn, the lively Tarantella for flute and clarinet, or the Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs, which Saint-Saëns dedicated to the Danish-born wife of Russia’s Tsar Alexander III.



V. Vasan
Allmusic.com, March 2011

Stephane Lemelin and ensemble prove that an album of wind instruments is fresh, lively, and exciting. This album of all Saint-Saëns music includes ensemble pieces as well as pieces that beautifully showcase each instrument; this shows that careful attention was paid to the selection and order of repertoire. The ensemble pieces are exciting, with a wall of sound where each instrument holds equal weight. Even the piano, playful and sparkling, is its own personality, but it never outplays the winds. Each of the musicians, from the clarinet to the bassoon, has excellent technique. One quickly gets the impression that these musicians are at the top of their game; they know how to play a Caprice just as well as they know how to play an Adagio, with excellent timing, phrasing, and dynamics, while never losing an intimate chamber music feel. The oboe sonata is played with such fluidity, like a clarinet or violin, with legato lines, trills, and a blooming-swelling piano underneath. The oboe maintains its dignity, without ever lapsing into a schmaltzy, trying-to-be-poignant tone. The bassoonist plays with agility, but yet the somber Adagio is equally worthy. Perhaps the only foul note on the album is that the horn tends to drag a bit in the Romance in E major, which is quite interesting to listen to with its Chopin-esque piano lines that emerge here and there. However, this is only a minor point in an overall strong album. The Tarantella is a perfect ending. We hear the spider crawling, the dance making its way around and around. The flute and clarinet are in perfect synchronization, and the piece fully captures the passion of an entire orchestra in just three instruments. Saint-Saëns’ musical lines and rhythms playfully intertwine, and comes alive thanks to the musicians. For those looking to expand their collection of music by wind instruments, or who are new to this area of music, this album is a worthy place to start.



Patrick Hanudel
American Record Guide, March 2011

Few composers harbored as many contradictions as Camille Saint-Saëns, a child prodigy, superstar organist, and Renaissance man who began his career in the 1850s as the most talented French composer on the rise and ended it after World War I as an old-fashioned reactionary. Nevertheless, he wrote in almost every genre; and his wind music, spanning almost 65 years, continues to be popular. On this record, each member of Canada’s National Arts Centre Wind Quintet—all principal players in the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa— teams up with Canadian pianist Stephane Lemelin, the Director of the School of Music at the University of Ottawa.

The program is representative of the composer’s wind chamber catalog: the Tarantella for Flute, Clarinet, and Piano, Op. 6 (1857), a virtuosic romp that had its premiere at one of Rossini’s private parties in Paris; the Romance for horn and piano, Op. 67 and Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs, Op. 79 for flute, oboe, clarinet, and piano, both finished at the height of the composer’s powers, and both full of confidence and bravado; and the three woodwind sonatas completed in the last year of his life—for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon—retreating to a simpler and more elegant Gallic idiom amidst an increasingly turbulent 20th Century.

These are solid performances, full of technical assurance and artistic commitment. The opening Caprice is both strong and moving; the Clarinet Sonata has an array of color and sentiment; the Bassoon Sonata is exquisite from start to finish; the Horn Romance has a wonderful pastoral beauty; and the Tarantella is thoughtfully paced. …the exciting finish is hard to beat.



Frank Behrens
Art Times, February 2011

At times I think that only French composers around 1900 could so marvelously turn poetry into music. A good deal of the chamber music of Saint-Saens supports that feeling, and a new Naxos CD titled “Music for Wind Instruments” will help my argument.

Here Canada’s National Arts Wind Quintet with pianist Stephane Lemelin performs the following chamber works by Saint-Saens: “Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Piano, Op. 79,” “Clarinet Sonata in E flat major, Op. 167,” “Oboe Sonata in D major, Op. 166,” “Bassoon Sonata in G major, Op. 168, ” “Romance in E major, Op. 67,” (arranged for horn and piano), and a lively “Tarantella for Flute, Clarinet and Piano, Op. 6.”

Most of these are first hearings for me and I expect for most of my readers, and all are well worth the hearing. Considering the composer’s dates—1835 to 1921—one would expect a good deal of stylistic evolution. The Tarantella was composed in 1857, while the three sonatas were composed in 1921. It is remarkable how Saint-Saens never fully abandoned the “impressionist” effects even after World War I.

All in all, this Naxos release is highly recommended.



Laima
WRUV Reviews, January 2011

A selection of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) for wind instruments, sampling more from his later works. Compared to the Indesens 2 CD release with the soloist of the Paris Orchestra, this one sounds a bit thin, although still lovely.



Infodad.com, December 2010

Chamber music is music of compression: with a limited number of instruments, a composer’s ability to communicate must be less diffuse, more focused than in works written for orchestra or large ensembles. Over time, though, composers have evolved a wide variety of ways of coping with chamber-style works and giving them an individual stamp—and those ways differ considerably today (not surprisingly) from what they were in the 19th century. In the case of Camille Saint-Saëns, there is a certain Gallic charm and easy flow to all his music, orchestral or chamber—even The Carnival of the Animals, it is easy to forget, was written as a chamber work. But Saint-Saëns’ chamber music for winds is not very well known, so a new CD from Canadian players, featuring six chamber pieces for winds, is quite welcome. The three sonatas—for clarinet, oboe and bassoon—are the real finds here. All date from 1921, the last year of the composer’s life, and all are quite different from Saint-Saëns’ earlier music. The easy charm, the romantic flourishes, have quite disappeared: these are works of comparative austerity, with rather light piano accompaniment, and they have a distinctly French sound to them—albeit not the sort of sound being created by Debussy, Ravel and Roussel, whose more-modern music had largely supplanted that of Saint-Saëns in public favor. The bassoon sonata is especially interesting, starting with two quick movements (the second faster than the first) and concluding with a Molto adagio. This is quite out of keeping with the style listeners are used to in Saint-Saëns (and indeed, this is the only one of the three late sonatas with this structure); but it indicates that, even at the end of life, when modernism had taken over the musical world, Saint-Saëns was seeking new ways to express himself through his own tonal language. As for the other works here: the Caprice and Romance actually date to the time of Carnival of the Animals (mid-1880s) and are filled with singing lines, lovely melodies and plenty of fanfare-like passages. The Tarantella, offered at the end of this CD as a kind of encore, is the earliest work on the disc, dating to 1857—when the composer was 22. Originally written for flute, clarinet and string orchestra, it sounds just fine with piano accompaniment: forthright, self-assured and ebullient, and filled with virtuosity—a light type of chamber music that remained quite popular throughout the Romantic era.



Bill
The WSCL Blog, December 2010

Saint-Saëns wrote a number of wind scores throughout his long life and career; collected here, the Caprice on Danish and Russian themes; Sonatas for Clarinet, Oboe, and Bassoon; a Romance in E Major, and the Tarantella arranged for flute, clarinet and piano.






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