A Violin Concerto for a Prodigal Child

A message of clarity. © Charles Thibo

Just one movement. So promising. Like the dawn announcing a beautiful day. Unfinished business? No. Camille de Saint-Saëns cast his first violin concerto in A major (op. 22) in a single short movement of some 15 minutes, and if you have a closer look at the score, you may be able to identify three distinct sections. And as much as I hate to admit it, researching the background of this piece has proved rather difficult.

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Visiting a Place I Had Seen in My Dreams 

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Flying into happiness. © Charles Thibo

When I was very young, one of my favourite books was a youth novel written by Enid Blyton: The Sea of Adventures. Four children and a British intelligence officer chase weapon smugglers somewhere in Northern Scotland. The Hebrides, the Orkneys. Enid Blyton’s description of the landscape – an archipelago full of sea birds far away from the civilized world – captured my fantasy. Many times I would dream about those islands, wishing to see them for myself, imagining to explore them like Jack, Philipp, Dina, Lucy did, accompanied by the parrot Kiki and their grown-up friend Bill. Endless days of leisure and adventure in the middle of a wonderful natural scenery.

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A rhapsody of pain and pleasure

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Balance. ©Charles Thibo

The boundary between pain and pleasure is blurry, and this wonderful cello concerto feels like a balancing act between the abyss of pain and the summit of passion. Camille de Saint-Saëns wrote in 1902 his Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor (Op. 119). I have two recordings and I can recommend both. The first is by Zuill Bailey and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the second by Stephen Isserlis and the NDR Symphony Orchestra. What strikes me is the energy, the power, the tension of the piece maintained over the two movements with virtuosic parts for the cello and beautiful rhapsodic indulgences for the orchestra, first of all for the strings. What a pleasure it must be to perform this piece!

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