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Classical Editor
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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Complete Organ Works
track listing below review
Ben van Oosten (organ)
rec. Cavaillé-Coll Organ, Église de la Madeleine, Paris, May 2012
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 316 1767-2 [3 CDs: 57:12 + 56:23 + 52:34]

Experience Classicsonline

Camille Saint-Saëns is a composer that I greatly admire. It is quite remarkable that his prolific composing career spanned some seventy years. When he began composing Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Schumann and Chopin were all writing music. At the other end of his lifespan Saint-Saëns was still creatively active when Stravinsky was shocking the music world with his The Rite of Spring, and Schoenberg and Webern were writing their radical twelve-tone music.
Interest in the music of Saint-Saëns was undoubtedly assisted by the 50th anniversary of his death that fell in 1971 and the 150th anniversary of his birth that came in 1985. German label Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG) has served the cause of Saint-Saëns well by producing four beautifully recorded discs of chamber and solo piano music. Another welcome addition to the Saint-Saëns discography on MDG is this splendid three disc set for unaccompanied organ.
Renowned organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll completed the construction of the organ used here with its four manual console and 48 stops in 1846. It is this same Cavaillé-Coll instrument that Saint-Saëns would have played during his period as organist at La Madeleine during the years 1857-77. A splendid array of colourful sonorities and a myriad wondrous sounds are on display here.
With a compositional span of over sixty years Saint-Saëns’ organ music is revealed as consistently varied and inventive, often atmospheric, frequently spiritual, colourful and frequently memorably melodic. Opening Ben van Oosten’s programme is the splendid Marche réligieuse, Op. 107 from 1897 bearing a dedication to Queen Marie-Christine of Spain. This is a weighty, imperial march, splendidly demonstrating the awesome power of this magnificent instrument. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Trois Rhapsodies sur des Cantiques bretons, Op. 7, a relatively early work from 1866. Bearing a dedication to Gabriel Fauré the three Rhapsodies were written after Saint-Saëns had made a pilgrimage with Fauré to the Chapelle Sainte-Anne-la-Palud in the Bretagne region of France. The Rhapsody No. 2 in D major stands out with its weighty and stirring fanfare reminding me of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Remarkable writing is found in the Trois Préludes et Fugues, Op. 99 from 1894. It is dedicated to his organist friends Widor, Guilmant and Gigout. Especially appealing is the Prélude No. 1 in E major with its graceful meandering theme creating a pool of calm. I was struck by the meditative quality of the Élévation ou Communion, Op. 13 written around 1856 but published some 24 years later. Dedicated to organist Alexis Chauvet the E major score is a contemplative Andantino designed to accompany the communion section of the mass. The always authoritative van Oosten is very much at home with the Cavaillé-Coll organ. His undoubted prowess makes him an impressive advocate for this rewarding repertoire.
Recorded at the church of La Madeleine, Paris the MDG engineers have produced first class sound quality. I must mention the excellent booklet notes that are both interesting and highly detailed. They are a perfect example of the standard of documentation that can be achieved. Admirers of Saint-Saëns’ music will surely relish this excellent release. It will also draw in lovers of late-Romantic organ music looking for something a little different.
Michael Cookson 

Track Listing
Marche réligieuse, Op. 107 (1897) [5:14]
Trois Rhapsodies sur des Cantiques bretons, Op. 7 (1866)
No. 1 in E major [5:35]
No. 2 in major [6:36]
No. 3 in A minor [8:20]
Fantaisie in E flat major, without opus number (1857) [5:50]
Fantaisie in D flat major, Op. 101 (1895) [12:04]
Fantaisie in C major, Op. 157 (1919) [12:54]
Trois Préludes et Fugues, Op. 99 (1894)
No. 1 in E major [9:51]
No. 2 in B major [8:03]
No. 3 in E flat major [7:16]
Trois Préludes et Fugues, Op. 109 (1898)
No. 1 in D minor [9:37]
No. 2 in G major [5:39]
No. 3 in C major [8:57]
Bénédiction nuptiale in F major, Op. 9 (1859) [6:24]
Sept Improvisations, Op. 150 (1916/17) [38:58]
Cyprès No. 1 from set of Cyprès et Lauriers, Op. 156 (1919) [7:48]
Élévation ou Communion in E major, Op. 13 (c. 1856) [5:39]

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