> Saint Saens Requiem, Organ Symphony Cala CACD1032 [CF]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Cala Records

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Overture : La Princesse jaune
Symphony No.3 (Organ Symphony)

Tinuke Olafimihan (soprano)
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (contralto)
Anthony Roden (tenor)
Simon Kirkbride (bass)
James O’Donnell (organ)
The Hertfordshire, Harlow, and East London Choruses
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Geoffrey Simon (conductor)
Recorded at All Saints Church, Gospel Oak,, London, 14 -19 January 1993
Grand Organ recorded at Westminster Cathedral, 15 April 1993
CALA CACD 1032 [78.27]

Cala Records have some enterprising repertoire among their burgeoning number of labels, 20 of them conducted by their founder, the conductor Geoffrey Simon. This one mixes the ever-popular third symphony with the less familiar Requiem and one of his many overtures, La princesse jaune, an early (1872) one-act operetta based on an oriental fantasy. Saint-Saëns was heavily into the middle and far east, the French North African colonies (the fantasy Africa, the Suite algérienne and so on) as well as the more obvious Samson and Delilah as a subject for his best known opera. Far from being a story about jaundiced royalty, this relates the experience of a Dutchman transported Berlioz-like under the influence of narcotics to Japan where he falls for a figurine of a yellow princess, only to awake to find himself in the arms of his beloved. The overture is a charming piece of music owing much to Offenbach in many ways.

The Requiem was written pre-mortem at the request of a friend, Albert Libon, and when the event occurred in 1877, the composer duly wrote his commission in eight days. Its operatic style recalls Verdi, quotes the familiar Dies Irae, and supplicates entreatingly between the quartet of soloists and chorus with music of considerable beauty, particularly the Hostias. Harps, organ and four trombones are among its most distinctive moments of translucent orchestration, and it’s hard to know why the work is not performed more often, for at 35 minutes it would make a good half of a concert with, say Fauré’s in the other. A tragic footnote to the history of this Requiem occurred when, shortly after the composer returned from Switzerland, where he wrote it, his young son fell to his death from the fourth floor of the Saint-Saëns family home in Paris, followed just a few weeks later by the death from illness of his other child. Just as with Mahler and Dvorak, such music often finds resonances in composers’ family lives, whether written as a premonition or in response to such awful events.

When Saint-Saëns wrote his third (in fact fifth but two are unnumbered) symphony he was at the height of his popularity as a composer, pianist, and conductor at the age of fifty. It was the Philharmonic Society in London which commissioned the work, first performed there on 19 May 1886 and dedicated to Liszt who was to die at Bayreuth in July that year. It is essentially a work in two halves, each an Allegro preceded by a slow introduction. The organ’s appearance in the finale is one of the most thrilling in music and surely accounts for its popularity ever since its triumphant premiere. It certainly was, and remains ‘a treat for the people who hear it’.

The performers on this excellent disc all serve the music well, the acoustics sufficiently spacious for this ethereal music, and the excellent quartet of soloists (whatever happened to Tinuke Olafimihan after her thrilling singing in Porgy and Bess?) blend magnificently. It must have been odd to record it all without an organ, which was apparently dubbed in a few months later, but thanks to science and the glorious playing of James O’Donnell, it proved a seamless operation to insert it. The orchestral playing by the LPO is unsurprisingly superb. The disc is a digital remastering

Christopher Fifield


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