Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphony in A (c.1850) [25:06]
Symphony No. 1 in E flat major Op. 2 (1853) [30:41]
Symphony No. 2 in A minor Op. 55 (1859) [22:43]
Symphony in F major Urbs Roma (1856) [40:44]
Symphony No. 3 in C minor Op. 78 Organ (1886) [36:17];
Bernard Gavoty (organ)
Orchestre National de l’ORTF/Jean Martinon
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris, June, September 1972 (1-2), September 1974 (A; F), l’Église Saint-Louis des Invalides, Paris, January 1975 (3). ADD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94360 [79:06 + 77:15]
It comes as no surprise that two other numbered Symphonies precede the well-known Organ Symphony but the existence of a further two unnumbered works may well do so. More to the point, whilst the much later No. 3 is the only one of the collection which might be described as an out and out masterpiece, all four of the others are very much worth hearing for their own merits. Whilst it is strictly accurate to describe them as early in the context of the composer’s long life and whilst the first was written when he was only about 15 there is no sense that these are immature or unsatisfactory. The remarkable thing about all of them is that each movement has real character and craftsmanship. They are certainly derivative in some aspects, reminding the listener of the music of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Mozart in particular as well as that of the composer’s older French contemporaries, Berlioz and Gounod. It remains a mystery that he never won the Prix de Rome, the goal of aspiring French composers of the nineteenth century. Much as I enjoy Bizet’s delightful Symphony in C any of the early works here is comparable to it in quality and enjoyable substance.
I suspect that all but the Third will have been new to the orchestra and possibly also to the conductor when they were recorded but you would never be aware of this from the characterful and affectionate playing. The Third also benefits from an idiomatic and purposeful approach, with the organ well placed in relation to the orchestra. Brief English notes by Barry Millington and longer and more informative notes in French by Phillipe Mourgeot assist in the listener’s enjoyment of a very worthwhile set. If you already have the composer’s complete piano or violin concertos you will be as eager as I was to add this set to your collection.  

John Sheppard

Very much worth hearing. Real character and craftsmanship. 

see also review of earlier releases by Gavin Dixon (EMI 6318042) and Rob Barnett (Brilliant Classics 92777)

Masterwork Index: Organ symphony