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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Complete Organ Works and Motets Vol. 4 - 'Le patriarche de la Belle Epoque'

Deuxième Fantaisie [13'56] transc. par Alex. Guilmant
Le Cygne [2'51]
Prélude au Déluge op 45 [9'06]
Prélude et Fugue en ut majeur op 109/3 [2'53] [6'21]
Improvisation 1 op 150 [11'31]
Cyprès op 156/1 [8'39]
Improvisation II 'Feria Pentecostes' op 150 [5'07]
Prélude et Fugue en sol majeur op 109/2 [2'38] [3'29]
Premiere Fantaisie [5'15]
Vincent Genvrin, organ
Rec: Santa-Maria la Real d'Azkoitia, (Spain), Riga Cathedral, (op 109/2), and La Madeleine, Paris (Premiere Fantaisie) 3rd, 4th October 1998 DDD


The fourth disc of this series contains just organ works. A slightly strange collection of pieces includes, for me, some of Saint-Saëns' weakest pieces. The long, dull Deuxième Fantaisie, and the strange and shapeless first improvisation stand out in this regard. On the other hand the C major Prélude and Fugue, is one of the least academic. The Premiere Fantaisie remains popular, and the Guilmant transcriptions add interest. The programme is saved, (far better than, for example, Naxos's first volume in their series, reviewed elsewhere on these pages), by the quality of the playing and the instruments. It is hard to overstate the consistency of the performances offered on these discs by Vincent Genvrin, titulaire of Soissons Cathedral, and Professor of Organ at the Conservatoire in Laon. These interpretations are always musical, supple, marvellously controlled, and with a great empathy for the music. Perhaps some of the less succinct pieces could have been more imaginatively approached, but this is a minor quibble. The highlight of this fourth CD for me, is his wonderfully dramatic reading of the little-known, Cyprès, an anguished hommage to the dead of the first world war.

Again, Hortus record interesting and appropriate instruments. This disc, with the exception of the last two works, was recorded on the extremely late (1898) Cavaillé-Coll organ in Azkoita, Spain, completed little more than a month before Charles Mutin succeeded Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in charge of the firm. A three manual organ of 38 stops, in a small Basque village, it can be, according to the interesting essay about the organ, considered the chef d'oeuvre of voicer Fernand Pince, who worked for Cavaillé-Coll only between 1889 (the year of the St Sernin, Toulouse organ) and the death of Aristide. It sounds wonderfully fiery here.

Again, Hortus's manically inconsistent approach to booklet-content is evident. This release's effort contains the aforementioned essay on the organ together with a photo and specification (hooray!), and notes on the works. However this time none of it is translated into English, so your French has to be reasonable.

Overall, despite the inconsistent nature of the music, this series is highly recommendable for the quality of the performances and instruments.

Chris Bragg

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