Saint-Saëns's First Cello Concerto was dedicated to the great cellist Franchomme, famous for his 'light' bowing technique that came to be identified with the French style. It is the light airiness of Natalie Clein's approach that works so well here. While I have sometimes found her lacking in heft in Brahms and Rachmaninov, here she finds a golden timbre and fleet elegance, matched by Andrew Manze and the effervescent BBC Scottish forces. This is as close as you'll ever get to musical champagne; I've a feeling Saint-Saëns would have approved.
The First Concerto's opening and closing movements flow with wonderfully natural ebullience, while Clein conjures magic in the delicate Allegretto ballet in a reading of subtle delight.
Saint-Saëns's Second Concerto is fiendishly difficult, with much of its virtuosity reserved for the soloist's long accompanying episodes. The composer himself confessed it was 'too difficult' to achieve popularity. Yet Clein has the measure of it, delivering the dizzying double-stops with airborne grace and tight precision; only occasionally do the virtuosic figures seem to lose musical direction. She revels in the spacious cadenza of its curious, short fast movement, combining limpid vocalise with insouciant runs. Her Allegro appassionatois refreshingly unemphatic, while she presents Le cygnewith unselfconscious simplicity. She's joined by the superb violinist Antje Weithaas for La muse et le poète, a rhapsodic 'conversation' between the two instruments which began life as a piano trio.
Steven Isserlis's imaginative performances of both concertos with Christoph Eschenbach (RCA) remain compelling, but if you seek something less sinewy, with an orchestral recording of crisp transparency, Clein's disc comes highly recommended.