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I reviewed Volumes 1 and 2 of Geoffrey Burleson’s Saint-Saëns project for IP in July/August 2012. His latest instalment, subtitled ‘Character Pieces’, puts us further in his debt by resurrecting music guaranteed 99 per cent unfamiliar to most of us. (The exception is the solo transcription of Rhapsodie d’Auvergne, originally for piano and orchestra.) The accomplished Bagatelles (1855) – written when the composer was only 20 – were originally divided into two suites, the last piece (linked thematically to the first) being perfect pas-de-deux material for an enterprising choreographer.

The pianist’s own booklet notes shrewdly name Schumann as a prevailing influence, a composer suffi ciently modern in Saint- Saëns’ day as to provoke some controversy when his music was publicly performed. The six-movement Album Op 72 includes a Carillon in 7/4 time (unusual for 1884), and a Toccata currently available in a useful 13-piece Saint-Saëns album published by Durand. Despite its title, the 12-minute Gluck work is more a theme and variations than a caprice. Among the remainder of the disc is the composer’s very last published piano work, the Feuillet d’album, which even postdates the late woodwind sonatas that accompanists may know.

Music with almost no performing tradition is, of course, harder to interpret than often-played classics. Burleson has technical skill in abundance but there’s less charm and wit on display. However, we should be grateful for the opportunity to hear this music and I look forward to Volumes 4 and 5.

MICHAEL ROUND Read the full review on Agora Classica

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