Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra Live
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto in G Minor for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani (1934-8) [21:55]
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No. 3 Organ Symphony (1886) [36:00]
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra/Arvo Volmer
Thomas Trotter (organ)
rec. live, Auckland Town Hall, 25, 27 March 2010
ATOLL ACD116 [58:15]

This disc by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestraís Live label, teams up two orchestra-and-organ blockbusters from Poulenc and Saint-SaŽns. As the title of the disc indicates, these are live concert recordings though the audience is unnoticeable except during the applause at the end of each work.
At the start of the Poulenc, the bold and substantial G minor organ chords as heard on the Auckland Town Hall Organ, come through with might. Those unfamiliar with this work will immediately recognize the skill of the composer and the variety of musical inventiveness though the instrumentation is in fact limited to organ, timpani, and strings. The moods fluctuate and engage the listener making the work feel satisfying with its driving nature alternating with the calmer, softer moments. The timpani play with fervor and the strings are transparent and delicate when they need to be. The work features substantial variations in mood and texture. The major key phrase is repeated in the minor but lacks some of the energy of the best recordings such as that by Previn and the London Symphony. The recording has a good sense of three-dimensional space. The strings are clearly up-front, the timpani in the rear and organ behind them, all glowing in the Auckland Town Hall acoustic. The work ends in tranquility and a beautiful chorale from the now calm organ and strings.
The Saint-SaŽns Organ Symphony is scored for a large orchestra with organ. It is in two large movements each of which is divided into a first and second part. Rather than starting with a prominent organ solo as Poulenc was to do, here the work opens with near silence from the strings going from D flat major to F minor. The organ isnít heard until about ten minutes into the opening movement and even then just barely until the last movement (Maestoso) offers it front and center. The Andante shifts to an energetic and somewhat tense Allegro played with nice precision by the orchestra. Sometimes the high strings are a bit thin - such as at track 2, 9:00 in Saint-SaŽns first movement Ė Andante-Allegro. The second half of the first movement is a beautifully delicate Adagio played here with considerable tenderness. The organ can be heard but is used to provide color rather than being deployed for its formidable power. The composer reserves that for the end of the symphony. The second movement begins with an Allegro-Presto bouncing the jaunty idea between the various orchestral groups. The music slows down to build a a great sense of anticipation; the organ is finally heard in its full power nearly twenty-eight minutes into the work. The organ writing isnít particularly virtuosic but provides a driving power to which the orchestra responds with vigor. The final climax is preceded by some very low organ pedals that must have impressed during the live performance but on this recording sound somewhat restrained; same goes for the orchestra. When this work is heard with a large organ, the effect of the ending is thrilling. In this recording it is somewhat lacking in verve and the tempos being on the slower side donít help matters much either.
The overall impression is that the orchestral playing is transparent and never heavy but the interpretation remains somewhat reserved. Dynamic range is wide showcasing both the whisper-quiet - even in the organ - and the vibrant loud climaxes.
The beautifully designed booklet is in English only and features extensive details on the organ.
Karim Elmahmoudi

Lacking in verve Ö somewhat reserved.