Cala and Saint-Saëns
collectors will remember the two CDs issued by the company in
the mid-1990s. They were recorded in 1993 and 1994 and appeared
on Cala CACD 1015 and 1016. They appear now in surround sound
format, and also slightly reprogrammed – these are not therefore
simply straight SACD reissues.
I’ve dealt elsewhere
with the pot-pourri-ish disc that contains the fabulous Africa.
The disc under review conjoins the little-heard Requiem
with the often-heard Third Symphony. As an opener we also have
the atmospheric Overture to La Princesse Jaune. It’s
an engaging work, spiced with Japanoiserie and neatly performed
by the L.P.O. – fans of Offenbach will recognise a kindred spirit.
The Organ Symphony hardly lacks for adherents on disc. James
O’Donnell is the organist and for once the organ doesn’t sound
“phoned in” from an unsympathetic acoustic. The performance
is precise and spruce, though not one that necessarily radiates
the alpha and omega of glamour. The weight of interest for the
disc – and I have to say my own critical enthusiasm – will therefore
be felt more for the choral work, and not merely because of
its rarity. It gets a good performance too.
He wrote it within
the space of eight days in 1878. It prefigures the Requiem by
Fauré in its simplicity and entreatingly devotional setting.
And it manages to avoid bombast and grandiloquent orchestration,
instead pursuing the more benevolent waters of consolation.
That said after the opening Kyrie the Dies Irae
is powerfully scored for four trombones with some incisive organ
interjections as well – so this is hardly a supine work either.
Rhythmic vivacity is underlined in the Rex Tremendae which
is a vital and energetic movement somewhat dampened by the slightly
mushy sound. This was a drawback on the original release and
the SACD format has not benefited the clarity or precision of
the choral entries for example. All three choirs sing well but
the slight problems remain. The Requiem also grants moments
of instrumental felicity – the delicacy of the Oro Supplex
is a particular case in point. The soloists – all excellent
– coil and twist their way here and prove a fine quartet throughout
the Requiem’s thirty-five minute length. In the Hostias
we find Saint-Saëns fusing classical and romantic models to
greatest effect – and the resulting verdant simplicity is heartening
and uplifting and sounds explicitly to have influenced Fauré.
Similarly the grave lyricism of the Agnus Dei acts as
a consolatory ending.
This is certainly
a worthwhile restoration. I’ve made something of the recording’s
lack of optimum choral focus in the Requiem but that shouldn’t
deter those who want to investigate this unusual and rare work.