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By the age of three, Camille was writing and reading music; at five, he was reading opera scores and Beethoven sonatas. His first solo recital, at ten, comprised a Mozart concerto, a Beethoven concerto, a Prelude and Fugue by Bach, and four other works -- all performed from memory. On that occasion Saint-Saëns' mother was reputedly asked, 'What kind of music will he be playing when he's twenty?', to which she replied, 'He will be playing his own !'
[listen -- track 1, 3:18-4:30]
Above all the ten Simon/LPO tracks -- with their contrasting moods; illustrate Camille Saint-Saëns' unfailing accessibility, his correct and colourful orchestration, his unexpected and often beautiful lyricism and a fund of outright exuberance.
The 1st track, 'Africa-Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, Op 89' (one of three items lasting more than ten minutes) was composed on the Canary Islands in 1890, after Saint-Saëns had visited Cairo and Alexandria. The exotic Fantasy is an incandescent portrait of North Africa, featuring a Tunisian folk melody and here soloist Gwendolyn Mok -- co-ordinator of keyboard studies at San Jose State University -- makes light of its thrilling virtuosic demands.
While 'Paraysatis -- Airs de ballet' begins with a languorous Entrée, its three remaining excerpts are notable for their upbeat sensuality. In its entirety this score served as incidental music for a Persian-inspired drama by writer and adventurer Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916) and the complete work called upon full orchestra (with harp and finger cymbals) plus vocal soloists and chorus.
Copyright © 12 August 2007
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand