Saint-Saens / Piano Concerto No. 2 / Rubinstein – Living Stereo Magic

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This superb TAS List Piano Concerto recording finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet and scratch-free as we can find it
  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • If you love this famous piano concerto as much as we do, this is surely a classic from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Harry Pearson put this recording on his TAS List of Super Disc LPs, and with good reason — the sound is wonderfully relaxed and natural. This Shaded Dog pressing is exceptionally lively and dynamic. The sound is BIG and BOLD, enough to fill up your listening room and then some. The piano is clean and clear, and the strings are rich and textured.

The great Artur Rubinstein’s performance of these wonderful works is superb.

Our Shaded Dog pressing here offers plenty of Living Stereo Magic. This wonderful record boasts a natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone. It also presents the listener with a correctly-sized piano, which is fairly unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings.

This vintage Living Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are listening to Rubinstein playing live, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of This Wonderful Classical Release Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.


Side One

Saint-Saens – Concerto No. 2 In G Minor

First Movement: Andante Sostenuto
Second Movement: Allegro Scherzando
Third Movement: Presto

Side Two

Franck – Symphonic Variations

Concerto No. 2

Saint-Saëns composed and first played this work in 1868. It is scored for pairs of winds, horns and trumpets, plus timpani and strings. During his long and prodigiously creative life—first as a child prodigy, then as a “Futurist,” then as a conservative, and finally as a vituperating fossil—Saint-Saëns composed five piano concertos between the ages of 20 and 61. The Second (and enduringly most popular) was created hurriedly in the spring of 1868 after the Russian pianist/composer/conductor Anton Rubinstein asked him to arrange a Paris concert. Because the Salle Pleyel was solidly booked and therefore not available for three more weeks, Saint-Saëns proposed that he himself write a new piece for the occasion. On May 6, with Rubinstein conducting, he introduced the Second Concerto, although not with much success. There had not been time to practice it sufficiently, and a portion of the audience was put off by the work’s stylistic swings (“from Bach to Offenbach” was pianist Sigismond Stojowski’s bon mot of the month).

Gabriel Fauré, a pupil of Saint-Saëns at the time, remembered years later that he had shown his teacher a Tantum ergo setting. Saint-Saëns glanced at it hurriedly, then said, “Give this to me. I can make something of it!” What emerged was the main theme of the first movement (Andante sostenuto) of the new G minor Piano Concerto, following a solo improvisation in the manner of Bach to get things started. A gentler sub-theme (the composer’s own) has a Chopinesque flavor, especially in its keyboard embroidery in thirds.

Like Saint-Saëns’ opening movement and finale, an Allegro scherzando in between is written in sonata form. The spirit is nonetheless elfin, in the Mendelssohn manner—much as the Frenchman’s long-finished but not-yet-published Second Symphony had been —although the second theme in the second movement of the concerto anticipates the Carnival des animaux, still two decades down the road.

The finale is a Presto tarantella in 2/2 time, whose G minor tonality reminds us that Mendelssohn ended his “Italian” Symphony 35 years earlier with a minor-key tarantella. If Saint-Saëns’ premiere audience was not immediately cordial—Parisians had become as exasperatingly superficial as the Viennese—Franz Liszt praised the Second Concerto without stint, saying that it pleased him “singularly.” Not for the first time, nor for the last, was his praise prescient. Later on, of course, Parisian audiences let everyone believe they’d loved it from the start.

All Music Guide


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