Camille and her enthusiastic supporters in the French musical press may be tired of the Björk comparison but, frankly, it is impossible to imagine a record such as Music Hole without the trailblazing work of the tiny Icelandic wonder. Time has abundantly proven than Björk's conception of pop music was a lot more than quirky novelty. Her boundless imagination, particularly in the mixing of organic and inorganic sounds and in the liberation of the human voice as a creative tool (rather than as a lyric broadcaster, or even as a singer), has provided the seeds for some of the most interesting – or at the very least idiosyncratic – acts to emerge in recent years. And this is a truly global influence, one that seems particularly attuned to independent spirits the world over, many of multi-ethnic origins: Bat for Lashes, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Stina Nordenstam, Emiliana Torrini, Cocorosie, Juana Molina, and of course, Camille. Compared to Molina's much acclaimed Un Día, Camille's project of the same year Music Hole is less hypnotic, but certainly more fun.
The infinite cosmos of French organ music is Ben van Oosten’s realm, and he now has recorded the complete organ works of Camille Saint-Saëns in a sumptuous box set. He performs on the Cavaillé Coll organ in Ste. Madeleine in Paris, one of the most beautiful instruments of its kind and an organ with a big orchestral sound on which Saint-Saëns himself left his traces for more than two decades…
Saint-Saens’s Etudes offer an intricate and scintillating panoply of the French school of technique (the basis and prophecy of what Jean-Philippe Collard so mischievously called Marguerite Long’s ‘diggy-diggy-dee’ school of piano playing). Yet as Piers Lane tells us in his alternately wry and delightful accompanying essay (obligatory reading for all lovers of French pianism), they can be as evocative (‘Les cloches de las Palmas’) as they are finger-twisting (‘En forme de valse’, to name but one). The left-hand Etudes, too, given their self-imposed limitation, are a fragile and poetic surprise. In other words Saint-Saens’s Etudes are more comprehensive than their equivalents by, say, Moszkowski or Lazare Levey (superbly recorded by Ilana Vered on Connoisseur Society and Danielle Laval on French EMI, respectively – neither issued in the UK).
The two string quartets of Camille Saint-Saëns are not among the deathless masterpieces in the genre, but they offer enough entertaining and agreeable music to be regarded as minor classics of chamber music. The String Quartet in E minor, Op. 112, and the String Quartet No. 2 in G major, Op. 153, share the craftsmanship, intellectual rigor, and tastefulness that are characteristic of Saint-Saëns' conservative style.