Piers Lane (piano)
It is a bit of a mystery why Saint-Saëns's enjoyable Études are not better known. Perhaps it is their extreme awkwardness which deters pianists—these works are prime examples of a peculiarly French school of finger technique which requires absolute independence and equality for each digit, making no concession whatsoever to the weaker fingers or the shape of the hand.
The Opp 52 and 111 sets of Études each end with a barn-storming show-stopper, 'En forme de Valse' and 'Toccata d'après le 5e Concerto' respectively. The left-hand Études are perhaps less demanding, but nonetheless require a particular clarity and precision, being in essence a pastiche Baroque suite.
The Thème Varié, fundamentally a compendium of pianistic challenges, was written as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire.