“There is nothing more difficult than talking about music” is supposedly what Camille Saint-Saëns said over a century ago. I would add that there’s nothing more difficult than to endure the vindictive invective heaped on the composer by so many lesser lights than the grey-bearded eminence who gave us the three piano concertos featured in a Chandos CD with the BBC Philharmonic helmed by Edward Gardner backing up the protean Louis Lortie at the keyboard and taking on the piano concertos one, two and four.
Even when insults are spared, the tone of much criticism about Saint-Saens is patronizing. True, the old codger had some of it coming, for he gave as good as he got as often as he could, fighting for what he believed was true French music and, famously against Debussy and Stravinsky and Les Six.
In a perfect world none of this would have taken place, Saint-Saëns would not have had to compete for prizes half-way through his career, and he and the society in which he lived would have openly accepted his closeted homosexuality.
But no, the world of the arts in fin de siècle Paris sported a mine field of fractious factions endlessly skirmishing among themselves, and Saint-Saëns often got caught in the crossfire. Too bad, but by the time of his death at age 86, Camille Saint-Saëns had grabbed the brass ring, composed up a storm and died in peace, frankly not giving a hoot any more about all the negativity.
The Lortie/Gardner CD is a musical act of love. I settled down to listen to it from tracks one through ten several times and was won over. Gorgeously engineered by Mike George and Brian Pidgeon, classily produced by Ralph Couzens, annotated with scholarly authority by Roger Nichols, and, above all, given inspired performances of concertos number 1, 2 and 4 by the Lortie-Gardner-BBC Philharmonic team, the 2018 Chandos 20031 release provides a revisit to us long term members of the Camille Saint-Saens fan club.
Rafael de Acha