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Although Camille Saint-Saëns ranks among the most notable of French composers, he was also one of the leading pianists of his day a child prodigy whose virtuosic talent continued to delight audiences well into his later years. His piano concertos were written primarily for his own use in concert. Today they occupy a fun and sparkling place in the repertoire.
Full of youthful ambition and recalling Mendelssohns lively style, Saint-Saënss First Piano Concerto was written when the composer was just 23; another ten years followed before the Second, which is generally considered the masterpiece of the set. Written especially for a concert conducted by Anton Rubinstein, No.2 is certainly Saint-Saënss most popular: high in spirits and full of invention, it was soon followed by the Third Piano Concerto of 1869 and much later by the Fourth, whose adventurous and novel five-section structure reveals a mature composer at the height of his career. The Fifth is an exotic-sounding work that was written during the composers annual vacation to Egypt in 1895.
Not only do Saint-Saënss piano concertos provide evidence of the composers developing style, but they illuminate how arresting an artist he must have been in concert. Philippe Entremont has long been admired for his panache in Romantic music, from admired discs of Rachmaninovs concertos with Ormandy and the Philadelphia in the 1960s to these more modern recordings. Michel Plasson and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse complete an all-French line-up.