SAINT-SAËNS:  Parysatis 'Airs de Ballet.'  Sarabande et rigaudon, Op. 93.  Tarantelle for Flute, Clarinet & Orchestra, Op. 6.  Marche militaire franÁaise from Suite algČrienne, Op. 60. Africa, Op. 89. Valse-finale from Ascanio Messe de Requiem, Op. 54.
Tina Gruenberg, violin; Susan Milan, flute; James Campbell, clarinet; Gwendolyn Mok, piano; Tinuke Olafimihan, soprano; Catherine Wyn-Rogers, contralto; Anthony Roden, tenor; Simon Kirkbride, bass; Hertfordshire Chorus; Harlow Chorus; East London Chorus; London Philharmonic/Geoffrey Simon, cond.
CALA CACD 1015 (M) (DDD) TT:  77:39

SAINT-SAENS:  La jota aragonese, Op. 64.  Samson et Dalila - Grande fantasie (Luigini).  Overture to La princesse jaune, Op. 30.  La muse et le poËte, Op. 132. Danse macabre, Op. 40.  Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78 (Organ)
Stephanie Chase, violin; Robert Trumann, cello; Anthony Roden, tenor; James O'Donnell, organ; London Philharmonic Orch/Geoffrey Simon, cond.
CALA CACD 1016 (M) (DDD) TT:  78:24

Two more winners from Cala. Like their two Debussy CDs (see REVIEW), these were released about a decade ago and offer the collector a number of premiere recordings of worthy music in sterling performances. None of these are, for whatever reason, listed in the last Schwann/Opus. The only truly familiar work here is the Symphony No. 3 which receives a big-scale leisurely performance beautifully recorded with the massive Westminster Cathedral organ, played by James O'Donnell, skillfully dubbed in. It's a fine performance of this oft-recorded sonic showpiece. Otherwise we have many delectable pleasures which for the most part display the composer's fascination with Arabic and Egyptian exotica. Among these are three brief dances from Parysatis, preceded by an equally brief introduction; Sarabande, written when the composer was 57, scored for string orchestra and solo violin is followed by a Rigaudon, and the vivid French Military March from the Algerian Suite. Africa, a Fantasy for Piano and orchestra, includes a Tunisian folk-melody and is a dazzling display piece for the soloist. Fine program notes by Edward Johnson point out that Tarantelle was premiered in Rossini's newly-acquired Paris apartment where he had just met 22-year old Saint-Saens. Rossini pretended he had written the music and at the conclusion pointed out that it actually was written by the young composer. It's a captivating work that surely would be performed more often if the solo combination were not as unusual. Ascanio is the seventh of the composer's operas, premiered in Paris in 1890. The Valse-finale is a delight; the opera itself has never been recorded.

The major work in Volume I is the 36-minute Messe de Requiem, Op. 54, completed in 1878 on a commission from a good friend, Albert Libon, who requested Saint-Saens to write the Requiem for him upon his death. Incredibly, it was written in just eight days. It is a fascinating work, unlike those of Berlioz and Verdi which exploit huge brass and percussion outbursts. However in the Dies Irae we do have the huge organ heard several times, with four trombones, to mighty effect.

Volume II, in addition to the symphony alsocontains Jota aragonese, as intriguing as Glinka's more familiar version of the theme, and the "Grande fantasie" on themes from the composer's most popular opera, Samson and Delilah, arranged by Alexandre Luigini (1850-1906). It is surprising that in the course of its 13:35 duration it doesn't include the familiar "Bacchanale." (Luigini was an old hand at this sort of thing; some collectors may remember his Ballet Egyptien superbly recorded by Anatole Fistoulari and the Royal Philharmonic for EMI). Le muse et le poËte was first performed in 1910, and has been called "a conversation between the two instruments rather than a competition between two virtuosi." Again we experience the composer's endless supply of lovely tunes, this time more subdued than usual. The vocal version of Danse macabre (the vocal version is much more concise than the familiar orchestral version) is listed as a world premiere recording which it is not—American baritone Nelson Eddy recorded it (see REVIEW). On Cala's issue it is sung by tenor Anthony Roden. In 1872, Saint-Saens wrote a one-act operetta in which a young Dutchman under the influence of narcotics imagines himself in Japan where he experiences exotic images and falls in love with "The Yellow Princess."  The opera seldom is presented but the overture is relatively popular; Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony made a monophonic recording of it (available from Sound-Dynamics); this Cala release is the only other recording I know of.

Both of these CDs boast state-of-the art sonics. As mentioned above, they have been around for some years, but should you have overlooked them, check them out.

R.E.B.  (September 2002)

NOTE:  The Cala series also includes two CDs devoted to Ravel with Simon and the Philharmonia Orchestra.  They are excellent—but are for the most part oft-recorded works. However there are five fascinating world premiere recordings: La vallČe des cloches orchestrated by Grainger, Jeux d'eau orchestrated by C. Viacava, Le gibet in an orchestration by Eugene Goossens, PiËce en forme de habanara arranged for oboe and orchestra by Arthur HoČrČe, and Five o'clock Foxtrot arranged and orchestrated by Christopher Palmer. Total playing time for all five is less than a half-hour; unfortunate they are not all on one CD so collectors wouldn't have to acquire more versions (fine though they are) of works surely already in their collections. For those interested here are details:

CACD 1004  La valse, La vallČe des cloches, Tzigane [with violinist Stephanie Chase], Mother Goose Suite, Jeux d'eau, Five Popular Greek Melodies [with mezzo-soprano Sally Burgess], BolČro  TT:  73:33

CACD 1005  Rapsodie espagnole, La gibet, Five o'clock Foxtrot, Piano Concerto in
G [Gwendolyn Mok], Pavane, Piece en forme de habanera [Hans de Vries, oboe], Daphnis Suite No. 2 TT:  75:42