February 2008

Saint-SaŽns - Piano Concertos Nos. 2 in G minor and 5 in F major ("Egyptian"). Franck – Variations symphoniques
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano; L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Charles Dutoit cond.
Decca 475 8764
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Charles Dutoit have been performing and recording together for more than 20 years, I believe, and by now assure the listener of the sort of intimate, fully coordinated give-and-take we used to take for granted in concerto performances, as we still do, to a great degree, in chamber music. If the word "accompaniment" has to come into this picture, what Dutoit provides is not in the nature of "back-up," but is nothing less than full and enthusiastic companionship, the sort of thing, all too rare nowadays, that makes a concerto performance more compelling because it delivers its full content and character.

All three items here are served up whole and entire, with such verve and also such unself-conscious precision as to suggest that Saint-SaŽns and Franck had as much fun writing these pieces, and the musicians took as much delight in performing them, as we find ourselves enjoying in hearing them. The OSR, which was Decca’s "house orchestra" in the Ansermet years but has made fewer and fewer recordings since then, is in splendid form here, and the sound is simply stunning in terms of both brilliance and balance.

Personally, I’d have expected a short piece or two by Saint-SaŽns between the two concertos, but the Franck provides both a clear sense of separation and a suggestion of links that may not have occurred to us before. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor: buy this record.