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James Miller
Fanfare, May 2020

…The traditional La jota aragonese…gets a colorful workout. The two Andromaque excerpts, written as part of incidental music for a drama, modulate all over the place (Franck would have approved), perhaps suggesting the title character’s agitation.

Saint-Saëns, with credentials like Samson and Delila, the even-numbered piano concertos, the Third Symphony, the Third Violin Concerto, the Introduction and Rondo-Capriccioso, the Havanaise, the First Cello Concerto, The Carnival of the Animals, and other pieces, certainly earned his ticket to immortality… © 2020 Fanfare Read complete review

Gil French
American Record Guide, March 2020

The ballet selections are well-played entertainments—well-orchestrated, graceful, and pleasant, the kind of thing that would work well as background music.

And that is my main take on this album: gentle, pleasant, well-played… © 2020 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Tim Ashley
Gramophone, March 2020

The Malmö Symphony…sound as if they’re having fun with the japonaiserie of the Overture to La princesse jaune and play La jota aragonese with great panache and spirit. It’s all hugely enjoyable and well worth hearing, even if you already have Ascanio complete. © 2020 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

David Hurwitz, January 2020

Here’s a terrific disc for record collectors looking to complete their collections of Saint-Saëns’ orchestral music.

…With Jun Märkl leading such vivacious performances, equally well played and recorded. This disc is a mandatory acquisition for anyone who cares about either the composer or good French theater music… © 2020 Read complete review

James Manheim, January 2020

The music of Camille Saint-Saëns seems to have undergone something of a revival, with several cycles and series of unknown works underway as of the late 2010s and early 2020s. The one by conductor Jun Märkl, which so far has involved several different orchestras, shows great promise on this release with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, well recorded in its hometown concert hall. The bulk of the program is given over to a ballet sequence from the opera Ascanio (1890), which is rarely heard. 

…Märkl delivers so well that the listener’s mind may well conjure dancers cascading across the stage. © 2020 Read complete review

Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, January 2020

Saint-Saëns was never less than a consummate professional and, even though few would claim that any of this music is at the highest level of invention, it is certainly worth getting to know. The Swedish orchestra’s expert playing, whether in the precisely-delivered delicacy of Ascanio’s pastiche baroque or the more lushly romantic musical idiom found elsewhere, only enhances the experience. There are certainly no issues with the quality of Naxos’s typically well-engineered sound. © 2020 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Remy Franck
Pizzicato, December 2019

Ascanio, a large five-act opera premiered in 1890, is based on the play Benvenuto Cellini by the French playwright Paul Meurice, which goes back to the historical novel by Alexandre Dumas. The name was changed to Ascanio to avoid confusion with the Berlioz opera Benvenuto Cellini. …Contains a nice, elegant and colourful ballet music, which Jun Märkl conducts with enthusiasm.

The overtures that can be heard on this CD are not often played either. However, when put together and combined with the Ascanio Ballet, they form an attractive programme that is clearly enhanced by Jun Märkl’s devoted conducting. Märkl stirs up the drama and the symphony orchestra from Malmö plays with great commitment. © 2019 Pizzicato Read complete review

Records International, December 2019

Saint-Saëns’ operatic works contain instrumental music of vivacity and charm but have been undeservedly overlooked. Ascanio (1887-88) contains a substantial and elaborate divertissement that fellow composer Reynaldo Hahn termed ‘the entire Renaissance in a few pages’. Les Barbares (1901), a tale of conquest and revenge, includes a vivid prologue and joyful ballet, while La Princesse jaune (1871-72) with its pentatonic writing, and La Jota aragonese (1880), laced with Spanish vitality, show the composer at his most generously carefree. The unfinished overture dates from 1854. © 2019 Records International

Barry Forshaw
Classical CD Choice, November 2019

A splendid recent Chandos disc conducted by Neeme Järvi managed to contain most of the composer’s Saint-Saëns’ key orchestral works, but as this new issue proves, there are still some discoveries to be made, even if (despite their charm) they are not among the composer’s most substantial worksSaint-Saëns’ operatic works contain instrumental music of colour and invention but have been largely overlooked. Ascanio contains a substantial and elaborate divertissement that fellow composer Reynaldo Hahn termed ‘the entire Renaissance in a few pages’. Les Barbares, a tale of conquest and revenge, includes a vivid Prologue and joyful ballet, while La Princesse jaune with its pentatonic writing, and La Jota aragonese is spiced with Spanish vitality. © 2019 Classical CD Choice

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2019

We think of Camille Saint-Saens as a popular composer, yet of his eleven operas only one, Samson et Dalila, still enjoys a place in the international repertoire. That was premiered in 1877, three years before Ascanio, an opera that recounts the visit of Benvenuto Cellini to the court of Francois I in Paris. To enhance the story’s period character, an elaborate ballet, lasting almost half an hour, and containing an Introduction, nine dances and a grand finale, was included in the third act, and featured the gods and goddesses of antiquity. Even divorced from the opera—which was a complete failure—the ballet music is rarely heard today, though, as the disc evinces, it contains much that is pleasingly tuneful and suitably pictorial. Eleven years later he had an equal failure with Les Barbares, a story of conflict that included the Romans and Barbarians, the Prologue included here having the length and content of a movement from a very serious symphony. By then the composer had long passed through his period of light opera, the disc including the frothy Overture to the Spanish story, La Jota aragonese, replete with its popular melody. Enjoying a little more success was La Princess jaune, the Overture having since appeared alone in the concert hall. Two pieces of Incidental Music for Racine’s drama, Andromaque, and the Overture to an opera-comique he never finished, complete the disc. The performances have all of the high quality we have come to expect from the Malmo orchestra, here conducted by Jun Markl. I presume these performances were recorded in concerts, and are excellent sound quality. © 2019 David’s Review Corner

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