Carnival of the Animals
Martha Argerich, piano
Daniele Rossi, organ
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia – Roma
Antonio Pappano, conductor and piano
Warner Classics, 2017
This all Saint-Saëns album includes two famous works composed in the same year, the Symphony no. 3, known as the “Organ Symphony”, and the Carnaval des Animaux (Carnival of the Animals), performed by the prestigious Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia together with accomplished performers as organist Daniele Rossi and pianist Martha Argerich. Antonio Pappano, music director of the Orchestra, conducts the Symphony and joins Argerich in the Carnival, realizing a fascinating series of picturesque movements.
The Organ Symphony
The Organ Symphony was live recorded in April 2016 at the Sala Santa Cecilia in Rome. This first work, though not amusing as the following “zoological fantasy”, is wonderfully performed and captures the listener’s attention with its beautiful music and Pappano’s energetic élan. He and Rossi are superb performers and their straightforward vigour is irresistible in the more solemn or faster passages and makes the quieter ones charming for their abandonment.
Carnaval des Animaux
The Carnival, for its part, is nothing but admirable. Argerich and Pappano friendly compete to create the most silvery sound on the piano, a sound that – incidentally – is marvellous to hear. The two great pianists are joined by equally fine members of the Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia and the outcome is that this Carnival is one of the most enjoyable and lively renditions of Saint-Saens’s masterpiece. I remember for example the sweet delicacy of the Tortues (Tortoises), where the music is softened to not disturb these gentle creatures; the clumsy steps of L’Élephant (The Elephant), portrayed as a pachyderm walking into a place too narrow for it; the jumping appearance of the Kangourous (Kangaroos), but above all the delightful Aquarium with its variety of sounds and colours.
The characterizations of the animals are so detailed that they seem pictures rather that musical sketches and this makes easy to do lovely associations of ideas. It is easy to remember, for example, the old cuckoo clock in the living room of an old aunt (I hope everyone has an old aunt with a cuckoo clock) when listening to the charming Le Coucou (The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods) with its sweet melody. The most amusing piece is anyway the Fossiles with its xylophone, performed with such merriment that it is impossible to resist it.
In conclusion, this album offers two extraordinary performances of Saint-Saens’s Organ Symphony and Carnival of the Animals and combines seriousness and amusement in the energy of the symphony and in the jocoseness of the zoological fantasy.