Saint-Saëns composed his Second Piano Concerto in 1868. One of its many original features is the tempo gradation of its three-movement plan – ‘Andante sostenuto’, ‘Allegro scherzando’, ‘Presto’. The extended solo passage which opens the work – an obvious homage to Bach – originated in one of the composer’s improvising sessions at the organ. (Saint-Saëns was widely recognised as the greatest organist of his day, and his skill at improvisation – an art which he valued highly – is clearly related to the abundance of cadenza-like passages in these concertos.) The principal theme of this movement is not actually by Saint-Saëns, but was borrowed from Fauré, who had decided against using it in an early Tantum ergo. A spirit of Mendelssohnian delicacy hovers over the second movement, while Saint-Saëns’s individual and mischievous wit is evident in the timpani solos, soon imitated by the piano left hand. A bustling tarantella rhythm propels much of the finale, but the development section is dominated by a trill-obsessed figure from the second subject, while the woodwind intone a chorale-like melody.
from notes by Phillip Borg-Wheeler © 2001