Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 76 (Organ) (1886)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. St. Francis de Sales Church, Philadelphia, February 1980 TELARC CD-80051 [34:50]
listeners could well trace developments in recording technology
by perusing Eugene Ormandy’s discography of the Romantic specialties
central to his repertoire. Take the present Organ Symphony:
his first stereo recording of it, for CBS (or, Stateside, Columbia)
- last seen on Sony Essential Classics - was already itself
a remake of an earlier monaural version. By the early 1970s,
when Ormandy and his orchestra had transferred their allegiance
to RCA, the short-lived quadraphonic experiment afforded as
good an excuse as any for another remake, fuller-sounding than
its predecessor even in ordinary frontal stereo. By the arrival
of digital techniques circa 1980, conductor and orchestra
were shopping around for sessions, appearing both on RCA and
on the Los Angeles-based Delos label. Organist Michael Murray’s
contract with Telarc presumably accounts for the present “one-off."
mild irony lurking in all of this is that, through all these
technological changes, Ormandy’s basic interpretive posture
changed little. In some pieces, there’d be the occasional “different” handling
of detail - though, in the RCA Tchaikovsky Fourth and Rachmaninov
Second, it could be the sort arising from over-familiarity
rather than fresh insight. But the conductor stayed remarkably
consistent over an exceptionally long career.
as a performance, this Organ Symphony differs little
from its predecessors. Ormandy’s handling of the score, while
musically sensible and clear-eyed, is also hard-edged and relentlessly
serious, without the lightness that French music - yes, even
noisy French music - requires. The scherzo-equivalent - the
second movement opening - is grim and constrained, as is the
contrasting trio-equivalent: even the pianists' scales have
no élan. The proclamatory figures later in the movement
insistently emphasize the individual beats. Even the poco
adagio portion of the first movement, rich and serenely
lyrical on RCA, seems less purposefully shaped here.
peculiar rhythmic anomaly crops up here, with the music briefly
but randomly lurching forward here and there - and I’m not
talking about Ormandy’s customary acceleration during the opening
theme, which once again gets the woodwinds and strings slightly
unstuck from each other, as it did in all the previous recordings.
I’m not sure how to account for any of this: unsteady rhythm
wasn't one of this conductor's problems, nor can I imagine
this as some sort of technical lapse on Telarc's part.
don’t mean to ignore Murray’s work. But the organ plays an obbligato rather
than a concertante role in this score - the part demands
artistry, but not the sort that "shows." If you notice what
the player is doing, something’s probably wrong. The organ’s
first entry, at the start of the Poco adagio, is full-bodied
and clear, and the opening chord of the finale-equivalent is
brilliantly registered but one could say the same about many
recording, made at a Philadelphia church, isn’t quite out of
Telarc’s top drawer. If a church is spacious enough to accommodate
an orchestra, it may well have the kind of resonant acoustic
that engineers can find problematic. In this case, it affects
the heavy brass reproduction, either by softening its definition
or by giving it a harsh edge, compromising some aspects of
the conductor’s chosen aesthetic either way. On the plus side,
the sound encompasses a wide dynamic range without distortion
and nicely integrates the organ into the sonic frame.
lack of a filler may raise some eyebrows. Telarc has fitted
out their SACD issue of this same performance (SACD-60634)
with Murray's thirty-eight minute Encores à la française recital
(originally Telarc CD-80104), doubling the program length.
I can understand the company's wanting to give purchasers an
incentive to get the SACD, but still, even at mid-price, thirty-five
minutes seems awfully mingy. In any case, if you want Ormandy
in this symphony, his RCA version is the one to get, on both
musical and sonic grounds.
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