Right from the Introduction this is obviously going to be fun; beautifully played,...
Andrew McGregor 2003
Saint-Saëns was so fed up with the popularity of 'Carnival of the Animals', he stopped public performances of it in his lifetime (with the exception of The Swan; he probably realised there'd be a lynch mob of cellists at his front door within minutes if he tried to ban it). His Grand Zoological Fantasy has become a bit of a classical cliché, it's true, but this new one from Virgin started winning me over the second I set eyes on the cover: an anthropomorphic band of musicians with animals heads in fancy dress which seems to owe something to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper. The grin widens when you see the players, some of the finest (mainly French) instrumentalists around, from the Capuçon brothers and Emmanuel Pahud to Michel Dalberto and Marie-Pierre Langlamet.
Right from the Introduction and Royal March of the Lion, this is obviously going to be fun; beautifully played, with real wit, and without crossing the invisible line into camp or exaggerated archness. It's always respectful, and the impressions are as realistic as the score allows - no more. The tortoises funereal can-can is perfect. The elephant isn't just a big, heavy bass solo...this pachyderm has muscles, and poise. The aquarium shimmers with life, and a glass harmonica adds a reflective sheen to the tank (Saint-Saëns actually just asked for harmonica, and no-one seems quite sure what precisely he meant). Having shown a stunning turn of speed as asses, the pianists practice their scales with lamentable precision...it's all very well balanced as well, with that wonderful sense of air around the instruments that makes all the difference in a chamber music recording.
But don't just buy this for the Carnival; the other chamber works on offer here make generous and entirely appropriate couplings, especially the unusual Septet for piano, strings and...trumpet. As the song says, there are animals and animals and animals and animals, but breeding matters, and this Virgin's pedigree is impeccable.
Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3
Like This? Try These:
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (LSO/Davis)
Saint-Saëns:Complete Piano Music (CBSO/Hough)
opus number zoo: The Galliard Ensemble