This is a first-class recording, the fifth in Hyperion's series of Romantic cello concertos. Anybody wanting both Saint-Saëns's Cello Concertos and La muse et le poète really doesn't need to look any further. Natalie Clein is a comprehensively gifted player who performs these pieces with an ideal combination of warm-hearted expressiveness and astonishing technical agility. She also demonstrates a rare understanding of how the solo instrument is often woven into Saint-Saëns's beautifully written orchestral textures. And here, again, this release scores very highly. Andrew Manze and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra are the most imaginative and sensitive partners: alert to every detail of the faster music and most delicately poised in passages like the slow central section of the First Cello Concerto.
This is much the better known of the two, but Clein and Manze make just as convincing a case for the later Second Concerto, composed in 1902: this is a very different work, much more rugged and muscular, making formidable demands on the soloist. Clein plays it with all the requisite vigour and virtuosity and Manze and his orchestra are outstanding partners.
The other large work on this disc is the single-movement double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra composed by Saint-Saëns in 1909. Originally a piano trio, it was reworked by Saint-Saëns as what he described as a 'conversation' between the two soloists, written as a memorial to Mme Henry Caruette. The title was an invention be Saint-Saëns's publisher Jacques Durand to encourage sales. What matters is that it is a beautiful piece, tender, lyrical and often haunting. The performance by Antje Weithaas and Clein is just about ideal. This extremely attractive disc also includes Saint-Saëns's own version for cello and orchestra of the Allegro appassionato and the original version of 'Le cygne' (the only movement from Le carnaval des animaux that Saint-Saens would allow to be published during his lifetime).
Fascinating notes by Roger Nichols enhance this release and the recording is excellent, with a good balance between soloist(s) and orchestra. This is a most attractive disc in every way. The alternative RCA version of the three main works on this disc with Steven Isserlis (and Joshua Bell in La muse et le poète) is cheaper and features some superb solo playing, but the new Hyperion disc is in better sound and it has the benefit of Manze's finely shaped accompaniments as well as Clein's distinctive musical personality. Warmly recommended.