Among the virtuosity warhorses in the piano repertory, the five concertos by Camille Saint-Saens have established an appealing reputation. The audiences worldwide are enchanted to attend performances by great virtuosos in utterly melodious and harmonic works with dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics and musical ideas of the most refined quality. Yet, a very few of the professional pianists dare to approach this pianistic output by one of the most prolific and multifaceted artists of the European culture (composer, playwright, philosopher, astronomer, archaeologist, poet etc). To find the proper touch, to balance the wild virtuosity with the subtle musical concept, to get the deepest level of significance in these works – are all difficult tasks that require a high level of artistry (not only in pianistic terms).
Naxos has done music lovers yet another good turn by releasing these recordings (1932-36), vividly remasterd from 78s. Menuhin was in his later teens when he made them. The concertos in A minor and E are conducted by his teacher Enescu, who is the other soloist in the D minor Double concerto, which Monteux conducts. The performances are compelling, and the slow movements of the solo concertos are imprinted with that beauty of tone and phrase that makes the young Menuhin a permanent wonder. But the Double Concerto is the treasure. The soloists are indistinguishably linked yet each a consummate individual. Playing more heart-easing than in the distraught largo could not be imagined.(Paul Driver)