Saint-Saëns Complete Piano Music Review

BBC Review

Hough's a rare virtuoso, capable of letting fly dazzling cascades...

John Armstrong 2002

Poor old Saint-Saëns: he never quite seems to be taken seriously as one of the great French composers of the late 19th-century, and all you ever seem to hear is Carnival of the Animals or the Organ Symphony. You will sometimes come across the Second Piano Concerto, less frequently the Fourth... but it's over 20 years since anyone recorded all five of them. So what's wrong with 1, 3 and 5? If Stephen Hough is to be trusted (and I think he is!) absolutely nothing. The CBSO and Sakari Oramo seem just as convinced by these concertos, partnering Hough with sensitivity and passion - exactly the qualities he employs at the keyboard.

Hough's a rare virtuoso, capable of letting fly dazzling cascades, yet careful never to employ his phenomenal technique for its own sake. He's gentle, thoughtful, generous and committed - there's nothing selfish or insensitive about his interpretations, and these two cds of the Saint-Saëns Concertos plus Rapsodie d'Auvergne, Allegro apassionato and Africa are an excellent opportunity to reassess these undervalued works.

It's a strangely intimate recording, which manages not to sound like Symphony Hall in Birmingham at all, but then it does rather suit these performances.

At first glance it might seem strange that this admittedly outstanding set of these relatively under-appreciated concertos just walked off not only with the Concerto prize at the 2002 Gramophone Awards, but also the top prize: Disc of the Year. Strange, that is, until you've heard them for yourself. Go on, you know what to do...

Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3

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