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Saint-Saëns was at the middle of his lengthy career when he penned items of contrasting calm and vigour, the Sarabande et Rigaudon, Op 93. Violinist Tina Gruenberg, daughter of noted soloist Erich, seems somewhat distanced in these dances. I would have prefered it had she been balanced a little further forward.

As for the Danse Macabre, Op 40 (1873), arranged by the composer for voice and orchestra, now we have it with words by French physician and symbolist poet Henry Cazalis (1840-1909). The recurring 'Zig-a-zig-a-zig' rhyme, sung with mocking insistence by tenor Anthony Roden, adds to the menace familiar in Saint-Saëns' frequently-heard orchestra only version. Roden might have given the words a shade more perverse glee but Cazalis' idea seems clear enough [listen -- track 11, 0:00-0:55].

'Marche militaire française' is the last of four movements making up Suite algérienne Op 60 and judging from its brisk robust pace it might be more appropriate to substitute the title 'petit galop vif' as a substitute for 'marche'. 'J'ai pitié des troupes françaises s'ils portent le kit militaire complet'.

Commemorating the life of the composer's friend Madame Henry Caruette and written in Luxor, Egypt, when Camille Saint-Saëns was 75, 'The Muse and the Poet', Op 132 [listen -- track 13, 0:00-2:00] is at once an impelling drama, poeme and arabesque with ever-vital violin virtuoso Stephanie Chase joined by Australian cellist Robert Truman in an immensely satisfying duo performance. Again, as elsewhere in Geoffrey Simon's programme, one is almost bound to ask why music such as this is so conspicuously absent from today's concert repertoire.

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Copyright © 12 August 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand

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