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Six Études, Op 52

'Saint-Saëns: The Complete Études' (CDA67037)
Saint-Saëns: The Complete Études
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'Saint-Saëns & Ysaÿe: Rare transcriptions for violin and piano' (CDH55353)
Saint-Saëns & Ysaÿe: Rare transcriptions for violin and piano
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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
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Track 8 on CDA67037 [6'17]

Six Études, Op 52
Opus 52 begins in grand improvisatory style, with a debt to Liszt’s Preludio from the Études d’exécution transcendente. No 1, Prélude, perhaps also owes something to Saint-Saëns the organist, with its toccata spirit. Its bravura arpeggios and alternating chords range confidently across most of the keyboard and lead to a più mosso double-note experience in nasty-minded positions! Joseffy has nothing on this—nor does the Liszt Preludio! A final run in double thirds completes the fun, and the cadential chords leave no doubt about the key of the piece—C major, like Liszt’s piece and Chopin’s Étude Op 10 No 1.

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

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Details for CDA67037 track 8
No 6: En forme de Valse
Recording date
13 December 1997
Recording venue
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Amanda Hurton
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Saint-Saëns: The Complete Études (CDA67037)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: October 1998
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