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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto in G minor for organ, string orchestra and timpani [21:55]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No. 3 Organ Symphony [36:00]
Thomas Trotter (organ)
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra/Arvo Volmer
rec. live, Auckland Town Hall, 25, 27 March 2010
ATOLL ACD116 [58:15]

Poulenc’s Organ Concerto was written for performance in the salon of the Princesse de Polignac in Paris, a large room equipped with an organ by Cavaillé-Coll. The result was one of the composer’s grandest and most serious works, with occasional sections when the sounds resemble those of a fairground organ. It has been often recorded and on a wide variety of instruments.
The present recording uses the rebuilt organ of Auckland Town Hall when it was played for the first time with orchestra. It is based by the organ-builders Klais on an instrument of 1911 by Norman & Beard. The results as heard on this disc are certainly very fine, albeit that they are a very long way from the more pungent sounds that I would imagine were heard at the first performance. As is clear from his many previous discs, Thomas Trotter is a very fine organist and his playing here is all that might have been hoped for. It is plain throughout that this is a work of great seriousness and drama. Perhaps the character of the organ helps in this, but the result is a fine and well recorded performance of the work, which would complement recordings using more French-sounding instruments or which place a greater emphasis on the more exuberant parts of the score.
The Saint-Saëns Symphony is usually known as the Organ Symphony although the organ is only one of the many imaginative and ingenious instrumental effects with which the work is packed. Somewhat surprisingly for a performance using a new organ and which was presumably intended to display it, that instrument is balanced in a more reticent way than usual here. Partly this is due to an organ sound which again is manifestly not French, as well as to the recorded balance, but I have no objection to this as it results in a more coherent musical narrative than is usually heard. This is not the most exciting version of the Symphony that I have heard — perhaps for that you need a live performance — but it is one that is satisfying overall musically. I had any of the work of the Estonian conductor Arvo Volmer before but I look forward to doing so again in future.
This is a coupling which many companies have hit upon, and several of its rivals add to their attraction by including interesting extra items. Clearly the present disc will commend itself to organ enthusiasts who want to hear what this new instrument — fully detailed in the booklet — sounds like, but others may be more cautious. These are both eminently musical accounts of the works and I hope that what may be perceived as a lack of surface allure will not hide the real merits of these performances.
John Sheppard

Previous reviews: Simon Thompson ~~ Karim Elmahmoudi

Masterwork Index: Saint-Saëns Symphony 3