Prodigiously gifted, Camille Saint-Saëns entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1848, at the age of 13. There he discovered the symphonies of the great German and Austrian composers and soon began to try his own hand at the genre. The Symphony in A major stems from this period and although it was most likely never performed in his lifetime it demonstrates his exceptional talent to the full. Only a couple of years later, in 1853, Saint-Saëns submitted his second attempt at writing a symphony to one of the capital’s concert societies. Praised by Berlioz and Gounod, the Symphony No. 1 in E flat major was accepted for performance and published shortly afterwards as the composer’s opus 2. Classical in form, it is an example of Saint-Saëns’ typical clarity, with the lyricism that would later become a hallmark of his music coming to the fore in the two central movements.
By the late 1850s, despite his youth, Saint-Saëns was already well-established: in addition to his activity as a virtuoso pianist, he had been named organist of La Madeleine in Paris. He composed his Symphony No. 2 in A minor quickly: from July to September 1859. The orchestration is transparent, and the first movement unusually features a fugue for three voices. Concise and constantly inventive, the work moves away from the Viennese models Saint-Saëns admired so much, with a finale reminiscent of the tarantella in Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony. The present disc is the first of two dedicated to the symphonies of Saint-Saëns and recorded by the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège and Jean-Jacques Kantorow to commemorate the centenary of the composer’s death.
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