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Rubinstein’s classic performances of Saint-Saëns’ Second Concerto have, sadly, thrust the others firmly into the shade. Cortot promoted the Fourth Concerto (currently available as a Documents download), but the others were rarely played until recently. The First and Third in particular do not deserve their neglect.

Tacchino’s set is cheap, but also old, dating from the 1960s: it may also be had as part of a three-disc Vox box. He opens the Second Concerto (that famous quasi-Bach fantasia for piano alone) accurately though unimaginatively: the orchestra, here and throughout, is likewise dutiful but sounds uninvolved. The First Concerto is even harder to play than it sounds, and Tacchino is not alone in cheating around letter K in the first movement. The orchestral parts are all simple enough to sight-read, but a caring conductor should demand more than just the notes, particularly in No 1, ensuring that – for instance – the first two Allegro horn notes can actually be heard, and shaping the violin tune (eight bars before B) so that it sounds joyous rather than commonplace.

Many rival sets exist: Jeanne-Marie Darré’s is the oldest (and fastest!), while Rogé, Collard, Hough, Ciccolini, Brownridge (who adds all four of the shorter concertante works) and Entremont (reviewed in November/December 2014) are all more exciting, and well worth searching out second-hand if not currently available.

No jungle drums in Africa, by the way: like the Fifth Concerto, this concertante fill-up is North-African inspired, not sub-Saharan, and quotes the Tunisian national anthem for good measure.

MICHAEL ROUND Read the full review on Agora Classica


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