Saint-Saëns & Ysaÿe: Rare transcriptions for violin and piano
CDH55353 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 1: Prélude: Con bravura
No 2: Pour l'indépendence des doigts
No 3 Part 1: Prélude. Allegro
No 3 Part 2: Fugue. Animato
No 4: Étude de rythme: Andantino
No 5 Part 1: Prélude. Allegro moderato
No 5 Part 2: Fugue. Moderato
No 6: Caprice d'après l'Étude en forme de valse
No 6: En forme de Valse
As with those composers, No 2, Andantino, is in the relative minor key. It is designed to increase finger independence in an original and beautiful way. Different notes are to be emphasized, in repeated chords, creating an undulating melodic line. Saint-Saëns’ comments about Stamaty’s hand-guide training resonate here: ‘Tone quality by the finger only, a precious expedient that has become rare in our days.’
The third of the set is the Prélude et Fugue in F minor, slightly reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s preludes and fugues, and encouraging a non-legato touch. The Prélude is fiendishly difficult and toccata-like in its groups of repeated thirds, alternating between the hands. Saint-Saëns had a personal knack for this sort of thing and used it in other places as well—for example, the two piano Variations on a Theme of Beethoven, Op 35. The Fugue is three-voiced with a fairly chromatic subject which achieves its climax in leaping octaves.
Then to the relative major key for the fourth piece, Étude de rythme, which prettily and persistently explores a two-against-three rhythm, either in the one hand, or between the two.
No 5 is another Prélude et Fugue, with related themes in A major. Accompanying double-note tremolos suggest a vaguely impressionistic blur in the Prélude and recall the double-notes of the first étude. This is far more graceful in intent, though, and leads to a slightly academic four-voice Fugue. What a brilliant contrast, therefore, to the ensuing étude, En forme de Valse, one of the delights of the French repertoire and a favourite in the concert hall. This piece calls for the jeu perlé style of playing at which Saint-Saëns so excelled—characterized by glittering precision, with fast, clear, shallow-keyed articulation and a suave elegance. It is charming and pianistically mischievous, with its runs in thirds, sixths and octaves and its caricature of the salon showpiece.
from notes by Piers Lane © 1998