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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Danse macabre, Op. 40, arr. for organ by Edwin Lemare, rev. Vincent Warnier (1872/1919/2004) [8:25]
Cyprès et Lauriers, Op. 156 (1919) [13:44]
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 Organ (1886) [35:36]
Vincent Warnier (organ)
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin
rec. Auditorium de Lyon, France, 2013/14
NAXOS 8.573331 [57:45]

In his review of the Blu-ray audio format of this disc, John Quinn went into some detail on the Cavaillé-Coll organ used in these recordings. As he indicated, it is likely the “star” of this particular enterprise. I will concentrate on the performances and recorded balance between organ and orchestra on this conventional CD.

I found that much to my surprise Danse macabre works very well on the organ, especially as performed here on the mighty Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Lyon Auditorium. Indeed, it is suitably spooky, something to put on during Halloween or in a haunted house. It would have been good, however, to follow this on the CD with the original, orchestral version. Slatkin and his Lyon orchestra would probably have worked wonders with that warhorse and there is plenty of room left on the disc. Vincent Warnier’s performance here does not sound at all bombastic, as many orchestral accounts do.

Cyprès et Lauriers is a rather strange work with its contrasting parts sounding like two separate and unrelated compositions. Cyprès for organ alone has a funereal tone. As Claire Delamarche indicates in the notes to the CD, Cyprès is a lament and could be played separately at funerals. Saint-Saëns gave few registration details, leaving much up to the performer. Warnier varies the registration a great deal, which results in a very listenable piece that otherwise might seem too dour. Lauriers, on the other hand, is a celebratory tribute to the Allied victory in World War I. It is colourful and contains fine brass writing, including extensive horn and trumpet solos. It may not have much depth, but certainly fulfills its role as an occasional piece. Slatkin, the orchestra, and organist keep things light and breezy and turn in as good a performance as one is likely to hear. It would fit well on a programme with Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Richard Strauss’s Festival Prelude.

The main attraction on this disc, though, has to be the Symphony No. 3. Along with the Carnival of the Animals, it is the composer’s most popular work—and deservedly so. It may be big and splashy, but its French sensibility keeps it from going over the top if it is performed as it is here. My favourite version until now has been the old Boston Symphony recording with Charles Munch (RCA Red Seal) (review ~ review ~ review ~ review). That one still packs a wallop while not slighting the finer, subtler aspects of the symphony. In some ways this new one is similar in approach to Munch’s. Slatkin and the Orchestre National de Lyon give of their best to the lighter aspects of the piece with very clear instrumental detail, especially apparent in the scherzo section of the second movement. There is much delicious woodwind detail present and the piano ripples come through well in this movement. Yet, when the organ enters, it makes a magnificent sound and leaves little to be desired as the work comes to its mighty close. The balance throughout is exemplary, without the organ overpowering the orchestra. To achieve the full effect of the recording, the volume level needs to be raised considerably—particularly compared with the Munch recording. Munch was known for making the Boston Symphony a “French” orchestra and the comparison still stands, as the Orchestre National de Lyon is the real thing. Technically, both orchestras are excellent. In the latter part of the final movement, however, Munch’s brass gets a bit raucous and some notes are fluffed in the solo horn part. In this regard, Slatkin’s orchestra is superior. I still have great affection for the Munch recording, but am glad to have Slatkin as a modern alternative.

Leslie Wright

Previous review (BD-A): John Quinn


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