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  Classical Editor: Rob Barnett  
Founder Len Mullenger   



Silverline Classics

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921)
Symphony #3 in c, Op 78 "Organ Symphony" (1886) [35.57]
Frederick Minger, organ
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Sergiu Comissiona
Recorded National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., USA, 1980.
Cesar FRanck (1822 - 1890)

Symphony in d, M.48 (1888) [38.58]
Houston Symphony Orchestra/Sergiu Comissiona
Recorded Jesse Jones Hall, Houston, TX, USA, April 1982.
Notes in English, track-list and artists and technicians roster.
On screen extras: Speaker set-up utility, background documentary, composer bios.
DVD Audio 2.0 and 5.1. DVD 2.0 and 5.1 AC-3 Dolby Digital Surround
DVD-Audio playable on all DVD players

SILVERLINE CLASSICS 288231-9 [74.55]

Comparison Recordings:
Franck: Stokowski, Hilversum Radio SO [ADD] Cala CACD 0525
Saint-Saëns: Munch, Boston SO RCA/BMG 60817-2 RG or JVC/BMG JMCXR-002

The Franck Symphony is so rich a piece of music that most people — listeners, performers alike — don’t know quite what to do with it. It begins with exactly the same four bars as Liszt’s Les Preludes, and goes on to encompass a vast music drama with more story in it than Götterdämmerung in about one tenth the time span. Stokowski’s version pulls out the emotional stops and leaves one overwhelmed but occasionally has difficulty sounding like a real symphony orchestra. Comissiona gives us an authentic orchestral workout, a very rich emotional performance without losing sonic perspective, and the sound is wonderful!

For best effect the Saint-Saëns work requires a huge hall and a huge organ, although I have heard it attempted with squeaky on-stage electric organs. One famous recording has the organ blatantly out of tune throughout — another way to destroy the work. The difficulty of an orchestra and an organ playing together in a huge auditorium — sound takes 2/10 of a second to travel 200 feet (60 metres) — was cleverly overcome by the composer making it unnecessary for the two parts to be exactly synchronised while allowing them to merge effectively. The result is a work of a size unprecedented in the symphonic literature. The organ hardly plays any real music at all, at first merely whispering in the 32 foot pipes, then issuing mighty snarls and mightier roars as the orchestra dances at its feet in ever-heightening frenzy like worshippers at a Pagan shrine. Even the mighty piano is humbled, degraded, permitted only to contribute a tinkling texture to the mass. Finally in a magnificent oracular pronouncement the organ thunderously intones the descending C major scale, the Gods revealing to Man the fundament of all music, at which the orchestra achieves a collective trans-Beethovenian orgasm. One friend of mine referred to the work as "music to make God feel inadequate". This is a performance worthy of that accolade; one of the very best I’ve ever heard both technically and musically. Comissiona enhances the sense of grandeur by avoiding the pitfall of amateur conductors (like Bernstein) in resisting the tendency overly to accelerate tempo along with the intensifying orchestral texture.

Obviously this is a work written for DVD-Audio, and the engineers have fully matched the musicians in their dedication and skill. This is a recording to test your woofers as well as the rest of your speaker system to maintain clarity and musicality at these humungous sound levels. If you live in an apartment house, you’d better invite the neighbours over to listen with you to keep them from calling the police. This could have been an original three channel master, but if it was originally a two channel master, the engineers have been very circumspect in synthesising a very subtle acoustic track for the rear speakers resulting in a realistic, very large sound.

So, how does it sound if you don’t have a DVD-Audio player and must be content with listening to the DVD-only surround sound tracks? Well, not as good, obviously; but if you turn your bass control up and shift the balance toward the rear speakers, it’s still pretty impressive. They give you all the dynamic range, but with some increase in distortion and decrease in definition.

The Cinemaster DVD player under Windows 98 produced extremely distorted sound. The DVDX software player under Windows 98 wouldn’t play the disk at all. On Windows 2000, the DVDX player played the disk well enough but tended to skip in tenth-of-a-second increments. My version of Power DVD played only the two channel tracks. The Orion player has long since been erased; it’s so crashy it won’t play anything through. My Sony DVD player did a particularly good job.

Here is the list of people who gave us such a fine DVD-Audio:

Original recording Producer: Seymour Solomon

Original recording engineer: Tom Lazarus
Executive producers (DVD): John Trickett, Jeff Dean, Bob Michaels
5.1 mix: Rich Fowler at 5.1 Production Services
5.1 Mastering: Adrian Van Velsen at 5.1 Mastering
Mastering Assistant: Michael Yip
Chief Engineer: Chris Haynes
Audio Transfers: Ken Ramos
Transfer QC: Jason Desmond
Audio restoration: Michael Yip, Rich Fowler, Ken Ramos
Audio encoding: Michael Yip
Video production and encoding: A. J. Lara
Authoring: Ignacio Monge at 5.1 Production Services
Voice talent (in the speaker set-up utility): Janelle Guillot

For 40 years the Munch recording has been the standard both for performance and sound, but if this disk is any example, the time may soon come when it must yield the throne. But not quite yet. Age and cunning still triumph over youth and strength.

Paul Shoemaker

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