The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Maria Kliegel (cello) François-Joël Thiollier (piano)
Saint-Saëns is very much the casino player of composers. Sometimes he is on a lucky streak and his formidable compositional technique is coupled with inspired and delightful invention. At other times, however, the ideas can be less convincing and their development somewhat laboured. These two cello sonatas present something of a mixed picture. For example the opening of both works has tremendously arresting material, while the Romance in the First Sonata, with its chorale theme borrowed from Meyerbeer, is sumptuous. There is also some tremendous technical compositional wizardry in the Scherzo con variazioni in the Second Sonata where Saint-Saëns has cleverly scored the brilliant piano part to obviate problems of balance. Yet the piano writing is so technically demanding throughout that one can understand why they feature relatively rarely in the concert hall.
Maria Kliegel works hard to sell these works and, barring some suspect octaves in the finale of the Suite, delivers them with excellent technical accomplishment and sensitive musicality. In François-Joël Thiollier she also has a masterly pianist and both artists are particularly successful in projecting the delights of the Suite, its haunting ‘Sérénade’ deserving to be an encore piece in its own right. At the same time there is scope for even more imagination in the colouring of phrases, although this aspect is not helped by a rather muffled recording. Certainly Isserlis and Devoyon more effectively conjure the sense of fantastic theatre in their recordings of the sonatas for BMG. It is, however, useful to have all these works on one CD –a valuable compendium of Saint-Saëns’s more extended works for cello and piano.