Carnaval des Animaux
Phaéton, Le Rouet d’Omphale, Danse macabre
Pascal Rogé & Cristina Ortiz, piano
Charles Dutoit, conductor
Decca, 1980, 1986
Camille Saint-Saëns sketched Le carnaval des animaux in a few days in February 1886, while on holiday in Austria after a disastrous concert tour of Germany. He considered Carnaval as a work of fun and conceived it as a parody of Rameau, Offenbach, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Rossini and of his own Danse macabre and intended it for private performances only (Franz Liszt was among the audience of the second one, given at the home of Pauline Viardot), never permitting to publish the score in his lifetime for fear that its character would damage his reputation as a serious composer.
This recording includes other works alongside with Carnaval: Phaéton (1873), Le rouet d’Omphale (1871) and Danse macabre (1874), three symphonic poems three symphonic poems which remind us that Saint-Saëns was a pioneer of the genre in France.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this recording of Carnaval – and that Saint-Saëns’s wish was thus fulfilled. The two pianos and orchestra give us the opportunity to listen to an original and fabulous performance of this “zoo fantasy”, where the irony of the composition emerges in many remarkable ways, as in the delicacy of the Tortoises, in the “liquid” sounds of the Aquarium, in the mysterious and somehow disquieting sound of the Cuckoo, in the ironic xylophone of the Fossils and in the pure and light music of The Swan (the only piece of the Carnaval performed in Saint-Saëns’s lifetime). Carnaval lasts less than half an hour, but they are twenty-five minutes of pleasure and amusement.
Carnaval is followed by the brilliance of Phaéton and the liveliness of Le Rouet d’Omphale, but it is Danse macabre the best among the symphonic poems. Dutoit is really enthralling and the magical strength of his interpretation gives the impression that something supernatural is happening in front of you. It is absolutely amazing.