Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) stands out as the pre-eminent French master of the 19th Century concerto medium. He wrote 10 works for solo instrument and orchestra, the violin pieces especially indebted to the Spanish virtuoso
Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). The Concerto No. 1 in A, Op. 20 (1859) sometimes called Konzertstueck, is formed in one mvmt that surges in its middle section into a lovely arioso. A brief cadenza serves as a transition to the final pages, presenting the opening tunes in reverse order.
The Concerto No. 2 in C Major, Op. 58 actually preceded the First Concerto, having been written in 1858. This work, in two mvmts, subdivides into four sections, with three in mvmt two. The first mvmt radiates technical bravura and animation; the Andante espressivo has sweet interplay with harp and woodwinds. The third section, Allegro scherzando, accelerates the motion into an exuberant finale, Allegro vivace, that tests the soloist and the orchestra.
The Third Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61 (1880) culminates Saint-Saëns’ mastery of the form. Sarasate offered advice on technical matters. The first mvmt, quite dramatic, develops in sonata-form. The second mvmt, Andantino quasi allegretto in 6/8, suggests the French countryside, and exploits high harmonics in the solo, supported by clarinets in low register. A short cadenza leads to the finale, a strong, martial theme in triplets, Allegro non troppo. The latter part develops a chorale tune, rich and subtle, quite animated.