The Fourth Piano Concerto is a one-off, a work of remarkable structural unity unparalleled in the context of the nineteenth-century concerto. It ranks among Saint-SaŽnsís finest and most original works. Completed in 1875, the concerto is superficially related to the composerís Third Symphony of 1886, the uniqueness of which he acknowledged in saying ĎWhat I have done I shall never do againí. Both works are constructed in two main sections (subdivided) and demonstrate the skilful transformation of themes. Though much less frequently performed today (at one time it rivalled the popularity of No 2), the concerto is arguably more completely successful than the symphony, as it avoids the latterís grandiose, bombastic tendencies. Artfully constructed, it admirably combines intellectual mastery and popular melodic appeal, while its themes are also remarkably varied in character. The first movement opens with a concise, understated theme divided into two distinct halves. The layout of the theme itself, and that of the variations which follow, epitomises the composerís equal treatment of piano and orchestra.
In the ĎAndanteí section a serene chorale melody, quietly introduced by the woodwind, is subsequently treated in the grandest manner. The reflective conclusion of the first part is preceded by a remarkable passage which is effectively an accompanied cadenza. The second part begins with a scherzo section based on a lively chromatic theme from the first part, and soon the very opening theme of the concerto is playfully recalled as a counter-melody. A new 6/8 theme, splendidly uninhibited in its bounding rhythm, is introduced by the piano, and the triumphant concluding section of the work, following a fugal passage, is dominated by an affirmative triple-time version of the original chorale melody.
from notes by Phillip Borg-Wheeler © 2001