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Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Prelude and Fugue in E flat major op. 99, No. 3 [8'25]
Three Rhapsodies on Breton Melodies [8'42]
Seven Improvisations op. 150 (i) Molto Lento [10'59]; ii) Feria Pentecostes [4'52]; iii) Poco Adagio [6'24]; iv) Allegretto [3'03]; v) Pro Martyribus [5'14]; vi) Pro Defunctis [6'58]; vii) Allegro giocoso [4'29])
Adagio from the 3rd Symphony transc. Emile Bernard [10'47]
Fantaisie in E flat major [6'44]
Robert Delcamp, organ
Rec: Saint-Martin, Dudelange, Luxembourg, June 3rd and 4th, 2003 DDD
NAXOS 8.557285 [76'37]

 



The 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.

That 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.

Robert 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.

The 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 right.

Given the price though, this is very recommendable, especially if you don't have a recording of the literature.

Chris Bragg

see also Review by John France

 

 



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