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Bertrand Chamayou’s focus on French music over the past couple of years has now reached Saint-Saëns in this marvellously turned programme of concertos and solo works. In what I hope is the start of a cycle, he pairs the two best known concertos – Nos 2 and 5, very ably accompanied by the orchestra in the hands of Emmanuel Krivine – with four Études drawn from the Opp 52 and 111 sets, the third and last of his standalone Mazurkas and the Valse nonchalante. The Allegro appassionato is given here in its solo piano version, without the ad libitum orchestral accompaniment used by Stephen Hough in his complete cycle (Hyperion).

Cecille Ousset’s recording used to be the benchmark for the Second Concerto, a work of Mozartian elegance, albeit with a Don Giovanni-like dramatic side. It remains as fresh now as it did when new in 1868, which accounts for it great popularity: Presto Classical’s website lists 129 versions. Hough’s account surpassed Ousset’s in 2010 and while many rivals have crowded the market further, nothing looked like displacing it – until now. Chamayou and Krivine give a sparkling performance, full of wit and grace, highlighting the dramatic passages in a performance as good as any I have heard.

Their account of the Egyptian Fifth is equally impressive, perhaps marginally outpointing Hough and Oramo. In both concertos, there is little to choose in terms of finesse or tempi, so couplings may determine the selection. Chamayou’s are of pieces that undeniably burn at a lower level of inspiration, the gem being the lovely Étude Op 111/4, ‘Les Cloches de Las Palmas’. With terrific sound, this is a highly recommendable release.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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