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Laurence Vittes
Strings Magazine, July 2011

Camille Saint-Saëns remains a fascinating composer not just for his iconic body of work, but for the breadth of his life and experience. He was born within a decade of Beethoven’s and Schubert’s deaths, lived to hear Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and left an impression on the Chilean-American pianist Claudio Arrau.

Playing a 1700 Matteo Goffriller violin, rising young French violinist Fanny Clamagirand (first-prize winner at both the 2005 Kreisler violin competition in Vienna and the 2007 Monte Carlo competition) scores a coup with colorful, thrilling, and richly compelling performances of Saint-Saëns’ three violin concertos. Although only the Third, written for Sarasate in 1880, has survived as a standard repertoire piece, Clamagirand’s brilliant advocacy will have many violinists considering the two others, particularly with the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death only ten years away.

In all three concertos, Saint-Saëns’ ability to infuse an increasingly conservative formality with a sense of exoticism combines with his ability to write for the violin as if he had invented the instrument (even though he started out as a virtuoso pianist who, during a concert at the age of ten, offered to play any of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas from memory). The Op. 58 concerto, composed in 1857, is an exhilarating excursion with the composer’s familiar feline endearments already securely in place. Op. 20, composed in 1858 for the teenage Sarasate, is a 12-minute, one-movement exploration of the violin’s sonic potential through all its registers.

The contributions from Gallois and his Finnish orchestra are superb.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, May 2011

Naxos, which previously offered an idiomatic performance of the Third Concerto by Dong-Suk Kang (Naxos 8.550752), has now released all three together. Fanny Clamagirand, the young violinist assigned to the project, plays the Third Concerto with Grumiaux’s insinuating sweetness... That comparison endures through the first movement, which Clamagirand plays boldly but mellifluously, through the second, into which she introduces a gently rocking, wistful melancholy equal to Grumiaux’s (concluding with a redolent rendition of the duet for violin in harmonics and clarinet), and the finale (in which she seems at once more playful and more relaxed than did Grumiaux). In general, she draws a warm tone, particularly throaty in the lower registers, from the 1700 Matteo Gofriller violin upon which she plays, even if the instrument doesn’t always seem sufficiently capacious tonally for the finale’s opening dramatic declamation. Patrick Gallois and the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä accompany her as atmospherically as Fournet and the Lamoureux Orchestra did Grumiaux.

While Ricci took the opening chords of the First Concerto as an invitation to slash and burn, Clamagirand breaks them in a more leisurely, if not quite indolent, manner. (That’s the beginning and the end of her idiosyncratic ideas in this concerto.) As did Thibaud (in a live performance on both Malibran-Music 150 and APR 5644, Fanfare 28:1), she realizes much of the opulent sensuousness of the subsidiary theme, but even though Thibaud’s game may have been a bit off live in 1953, Clamagirand’s surely isn’t, so the seductiveness doesn’t seem so much like a decadent, guilty pleasure. Again and again, one of her subtle gestures (no flamboyant swooping here) seems to speak volumes, and the purity of her tone in the upper registers enhances the impact of a phrase.

In the opening of the Second Concerto, in which the violin sweeps along virtuosically before striking a more expressive vein, Clamagirand makes a stronger impact than did Ricci, whose equally virtuosic though less opulent manner created from these passages more a dry, leaf-scattering autumn wind rather than a humid summer gust. Still, many may feel that even Clamagirand’s sympathetic approach (which rises to the heroic in the first movement and luxuriates lyrically in the second) can’t breathe life into the less strongly characterized thematic material, particularly perhaps in the finale.

…Clamagirand makes as strong and idiomatic an impression (except perhaps for what might seem to be her ungainly entrance in the First Concerto), and violinistically, even a stronger one at climactic moments.

Strongly recommended for its soaring performances, in lively recorded sound. Fanny Clamagirand seems to have all the prerequisites for a strong violinistic personality—at least as strong as Grumiaux’s or Stern’s. Time after time, I listen to performances that seem convincing until I check my impressions by listening to one of the violinists of the golden age, at which time the star of the new performer suddenly seems to shine less brilliantly. I can’t believe that that will happen for most listeners with Fanny Clamagirand. Urgently recommended for that reason alone.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, March 2011

Fanny Clamagirand is a French violinist who turns 27 this April and has been studying and playing the violin since she was 7 years old: the Naxos notes credit her as “one of the best violinists of her generation” and I see no reason to demur. Since her debut she has won numerous awards, among them the Yehudi Menuhin Special Prize in 2000, First Prize at the 2005 Fritz Kreisler Competition in Vienna and again at the Monte Carlo Violin Masters Competition two years later.

Opportunities to hear her on records are sparse. Her violin sonatas of Ysaye never reached us. But we favorably greeted an earlier Marco Polo CD of music by Georges Taconet.

Here she plays a violin made in 1700 by the celebrated Venetian master Matteo Goffriller that seems well suited to this music, with a ringing top end and a throaty mid-range evident at once in the Third Concerto. This entire program is tailor-made for a young violinist just starting to make a name for herself. This is wonderful music that (save for 3) has been neglected both on records and in the concert hall.

Of course everyone plays the Third Concerto, and even Ms Clamagirand’s warmly expressive performance cannot displace the Milstein from center stage. Yet she finds a great wealth of lyrical beauty in the Andantino—one of Saint-Saëns’s most memorable melodies—spinning a gossamer thread that ascends to the topmost register without ever becoming piercing or strident, and she languishes much tender care on the second subject of the opening movement. Her tone is ravishing in both places. It might be argued that she takes the composer’s tempo marking of Allegro non troppo (fast, but not too fast) rather too literally in the finale; nevertheless, I admire her irresistible confidence. Certainly she finds in the music a winning insouciance that complements Milstein’s elan. I only wish the engineers (or the conductor) had exploited the brass more at 9:21 and again at 10:56.

The First Concerto (actually written after the Second Concerto) is really little more than a Konzertstück—here it’s 12:48…

The real news is the Second Concerto, which has never enjoyed the popularity it deserves. Here Ms Clamagirand is a close match to my favorite, the Hyperion with Philippe Graffin; what a devilish romp it is, with the young French violinist fairly exploding in joy…this set is certainly worth far more than Naxos is asking for it, and I look forward to hearing more from this marvelous young violinist.

MusicWeb International, February 2011

This recording has a lot of competition. Even Naxos have two other versions of the Third Concerto available: Grumiaux in their Classical Archives series (9.80608), and the 1994 Dong-Suk Kang recording (8.550752), which might well have been the first version owned by many listeners. Does it make sense to market another CD of these works, particularly of the Third? In the current financial climate, almost certainly not—neither Fanny Clamagirand nor the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, nor indeed Patrick Gallois, can really be considered names sufficiently ‘big’ to trigger loyalty buying.

Fortunately for music-lovers, Naxos often appear not to let profitability be their chief concern. Curious as it may seem, this appears to be their first recording of the First and Second Concertos. More to the point, this is a CD crammed with beautiful music.

Clamagirand has a fine, warm tone, ideal for this kind of music. This is her first major recording for Naxos—previously appearing only as soloist in Georges Taconet’s Violin Sonata on Marco Polo in 2005. On this form, it is a safe bet that it will not be her last. Few outside Finland will likely be very familiar with the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä; their name will not roll off the tongues of many non-Finns! Yet the group has been making music for half a century or so and their Naxos CDs of Haydn, Kraus, Witt, Gounod and Gershwin, have been reviewed here. Their experience shows in these recordings: they deliver practically faultless performances, deftly guided by the reliable Patrick Gallois.

Saint-Saëns may not be the most profound of composers, but as an inventive melodist he is virtually unsurpassed. Many music-lovers will be familiar with the Third Violin Concerto in B minor, op.61, particularly the gorgeous slow(ish) movement; it still finds an occasional spot in the concert repertoire. Yet the other two concertos also deserve a place, written as they are with listener enjoyment in mind, rather than intellectual dissection. The First (published) Concerto in A, op.20is better described as concise rather than short. Bright and instantly memorable, it would make a superb encore piece for the intrepid concert soloist. The Second (published) Concerto in C, op.58 is, despite the opus number, a relatively early work, written a year before the First. It is both stylish and dramatic, particularly in the first movement—which is actually longer than the First Concerto—and the unusual, almost Sicilian-sounding second.

The recording is very good, with an excellent balance between orchestra and soloist. For good measure and no obvious reason, there is a postcard-style photo of the Seine at dusk on the CD cover.

As far as this disc is concerned, no one should let the Naxos price differential be the only consideration: this is quality music in quality performances.

Mike D. Brownell, January 2011

Though it was the least well received by its intended dedicatee—Pablo de Sarasate—the third violin concerto of Camille Saint-Saëns has endured as one of his most popular concertos along with the A minor Cello Concerto and the Third Piano Concerto. The earlier two violin concertos, each written some 20 years before, are still noteworthy, lively concertos, but lack the same emotional impact and maturity of the seasoned B minor Concerto. What they may lack in depth is made up for with pyrotechnic virtuosic displays, perhaps explaining Sarasate’s fondness. This Naxos album places the B minor Concerto first, ending with the C major Concerto, a program order that curiously seems to place the bigger “bang” finish at the beginning, closing with a less emphatic note. Regardless of the order in which listeners enjoys the three concertos, the performances given by violinist Fanny Clamagirand and the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä under Patrick Gallois are each delivered with equal amounts of precision, warmth, and vitality. Clamagirand’s playing in particular is extremely nimble and dazzling, something both Sarasate and Saint-Saëns would have been proud of. Her sound is not exceptionally big, however, and the recording would certainly have benefitted by increasing her sound level. As it stands, the orchestra too frequently obscures Clamagirand’s otherwise memorable playing.

WRUV Reviews, December 2010

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) was once called the French Mendelssohn. Musically, he was extremely intelligent and well read and both a futurist and a traditionalist valuing Baroque composers as much as current ones. Play all!, December 2010

It can be particularly enjoyable to hear fine music by well-known composers when the music is outside the mainstream of their works—neglected for any one of a number of reasons. It is hard to say exactly why the three violin concertos by Camille Saint-Saëns are infrequently performed or recorded; perhaps simply because they are not at the level of the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms or Tchaikovsky or Bruch’s Concerto No. 1. But the Saint-Saëns concertos are attractive in their very lack of grandiosity, their focus on providing pleasure to listeners rather than seeking always to storm the heights and move in new directions. Fanny Clamagirand plays the concertos splendidly and without condescension—she leans into their beauties, expresses their emotions effectively and delivers thoroughly winning performances of all three. And Patrick Gallois provides a fine accompaniment with the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, allowing the soloist plenty of time in the foreground but complementing her very effectively when the composer wishes. There are rarely heard beauties throughout this fine CD. Concerto No. 1 (actually written second) is a compressed single-movement work, written for the young Sarasate, in which the soloist enters strongly at the beginning and remains prominent from start to finish. Concerto No. 2 (the first written) is the longest and most elaborate of the three; it is full of drama and virtuosity, with an expressive but not-too-slow second movement that is wonderfully balanced by an elegantly constructed and very effective final rondo. And Concerto No. 3—dedicated to an older Sarasate, who at first did not think much of it—has particularly well-done contrasts between soloist and orchestra, plus a slow movement of pleasant gentleness and a finale that flows with warmth and lyricism from start to finish. There may be no “great” music here, but Saint-Saëns clearly knew how to write effectively for the violin, and this is music that pleases and entices the ear and—in Clamagirand’s performance—offers plenty of style and beauty.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Even if the record companies keep faith with him, the name of Camille Saint-Saëns is fast disappearing from our concert programmes. His once much-loved frothy piano concertos, and those sugar and cream violin concertos, seem to be out fashion with present day concert promoters. So let us welcome highly enjoyable performances of all three concertos from the outstanding young Parisian violinist, Fanny Clamagirand. Having studied in Paris and London, she has, over the past four years, won some of Europe’s most important competitions, and has chosen Saint-Saëns to make her concerto debut on disc. The first two works were composed in reverse order to their numbering, that called the first being in one continuous movement, and lasts for little over twelve minutes. It makes it awkward to programme, though heard in such a loving account it is difficult to resist its attractions. The Second is the least well-known, but is his most substantial in mood, the soloist musically dancing around the orchestra through the long opening movement. Maybe it is the lack of outgoing virtuosity in the finale that has failed to grip audiences, even though it is full of joy and follows a charming Andante. Clamagirand wins admiration for her pacing of the Third concerto where she refuses to make the usual dash through the finale. She has a fast vibrato which generates the ultra sweet tone required in the central Andantino, her Matteo Goffriller violin singing elegantly in the opening Allegro. Technically she is superb, her intonation so unfailingly accurate. But the aspect that separates this from most of the other recordings is the balance between soloist and orchestra, the Sinfonia Finlandia placed very forward and given a weighty sound.

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