Neeme Järvi Conducts Saint-Saëns
Neeme Järvi & Royal Scottish National Orchestra
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"It's only Boolez [sic]"
I found this album charming, fun, and an incredible find considering I've been looking for the Coronation March for about a decade since playing it in youth orchestra. (Literally the only existing recording I know of. Thank you, iTunes!) The RSNO and Neeme Jarvi brought new life into old favorites (and some unfamiliar tracks as well) and played with all the elegance, transparency, and character that makes this music great. Highly recommended.
Mr Boolez - an apt moniker for one whose reviews of iTunes albums drip with disdain for anything that doesn't sufficiently challenge his unimpeachable erudition (or his ill-defined notions of complexity). No, Saint-Saens is not Wagner or Brahms: I don't think many would disagree with your implication that his music often lacks the depth of expression and formal innovation of his contemporaries, but in the words of the man himself: "The artist who does not feel completely satisfied by elegant lines, by harmonious colors, and by a beautiful succession of chords does not understand the art of music."
In short, is it not enough that Saint-Saens wrote beautiful and expressive music? Art is not a contest nor is its expressive capacity a direct and necessary function of its formal complexity. I'm immediately reminded of your namesake: Boulez's music, besides being a technical minefield for its players, is abundantly challenging for listeners, hyper-organized, and endlessly rich in complex and novel forms. However, and like much of integral serialism and high-modernist classical music, it is also hideous: its alleged intellectual rigor is only surpassed by its grotesquery and capacity to produce an almost visceral revulsion in even the most seasoned of concert artists (to say nothing of its audiences). Given the choice between the "fluff" of Haydn or Saint-Saens and the agony of modern music, I'll choose the former, thank you.
On this notion of fluff, what does that really mean? There is unbelievable nuance in Saint-Saens's music and moments of great depth. Yes, he wrote plenty of show pieces and exotic trifles that are more curiosities than anything else, but dig into some of his other works - there is so much to listen for! Listen to his Requiem sometime. Admittedly, he often comes off in his music as he was said to have done in his performances: aristocratically aloof, unmoving, facile, and as a conservative who subordinates expression to form. Not so in his Requiem: he speaks to the human condition with remarkable directness and clarity, never sacrificing expression for form. Not that you have to study it rigorously or even like it, but you should consider it (and more of his works) before making such a sweeping and frankly glib dismissal of such an ingenious composer whose works have been continually vindicated by their enduring popularity and ability to move and inspire.
Also, "some Scottish orchestra"? Ouch. You must think very highly of yourself. The RSNO is Scotland's premier orchestra - it has world class musicians in it and performs under equally world class conductors.
Finally, your implication that his music isn't really hard to play makes me wonder if you've ever played Saint-Saens or an instrument at all, for that matter. His music frequently places great technical demands on musicians while requiring them to play with the utmost restraint and seamlessness: a very, very tall order for any musician. I have never heard it characterized as "not really hard" or easy in any sense.
it's only Saint-Saens
Saint Saens was known for writing a better kind of salon music. It may not challenge you musically, but it's a nice guilty pleasure once in an odd while. Jarvi gets the best he can out of some Scottish orchestra. They manage to live up to his command, although it's not really hard to do with this sort of fluff. -Bz
Born: June 7, 1937 in Tallinn, Estonia
Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s