Naxos Organ Encyclopedia turns its attention here to Saint-SaŽns.
Is this the first volume of a complete Saint-SaŽns organ music
set? In any case this release presents an interesting variety
of his organ music, well played by the American, former Louis
Robilliard student, Robert Delcamp.
Saint-SaŽns' organ music is very variable in quality is amply
illustrated here. I have a soft-spot, I must say, for the grandeur
and sometimes extreme beauty of Preludes and Fugues, despite
the latter being frustratingly awkward to play, and often rather
academic. Delcamp presents here the E-flat major Prelude and
Fugue, and all seven of the op. 150 improvisations, some of
the longer of which should better have stayed as such. By contrast
the Allegretto and the Allegro Giocoso, being more succinctly
focused, are far more effective.
Delcamp, Professor of Music at the University of the South in
Sewanee, Tennessee, handles the technical challenges of Saint-SaŽns'
music with ease. Sometimes I wish for a little more van Oosten-esque
space in the playing, additionally the transcription of the
third symphony Adagio, in itself a nice touch, could have been
more subtly handled; some bumpy registration changes rather
spoil it. David Briggs' recording of Virgil Fox's transcription
of the same piece for Priory is worth hearing.
organ is a curious choice, it seems to be the flavour of the
month at the moment; Wolfgang Rubsam having also made recent
discs here. It was originally built in 1912 by the German builder
Stahlhuth, a disciple of Merklin, whose style incorporated German,
French and even English elements; the organ has a tuba mirabilis
believe it or not! The notes tell us that Stahlhuth built organs
in England and Ireland; does anybody out there know of any?
I'm curious! The 1912 organ had 45 stops, and was later somewhat
neo-baroquised. In 2001-2, the German builder Jann, rebuilt
and expanded the organ to some four manuals, 78 stops, with
electro-pneumatic action and a grand amphitheatre style console.
How does it sound? Difficult to describe, but itís not pretty.
The organ lacks some mystery for me, everything seems a little
hard-driven. How much of this is down to Stahlhuth's original
concept, and how much to Jann's rebuild is hard to say, but
as so many of the rather forced reeds are modern, I suspect
the latter. When the new Bombarde is occasionally coupled it
gets very ugly indeed. On the other hand, even the original
strings seem rather colourless. Of course there's no stylistic
crisis when one† plays Saint-SaŽns here, especially if one wants
to make a CD to demonstrate the organ. But to make a CD to show
the value of Saint-SaŽns' literature, I would have chosen a
more beautiful instrument. If a follow-up release is in the
planning, and Naxos don't want to go to one of the much recorded
Cavaillť-Colls, can I suggest one of the beautiful Schyven organs
in Belgium? His flawed but marvellous behemoth in Antwerp Cathedral,
or his gorgeous organ at Laecken in Brussels, would be just
the price though, this is very recommendable, especially if
you don't have a recording of the literature.
see also Review
by John France