Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, op.78 Organ (1886) [36:50];
Symphony in A major (c.1859) [26:30]
Le rouet d’Omphale, op.31 (1871) [8:19]
Carl Adam Landström (organ)
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Marc Soustrot
rec. 2013, Malmö Concert Hall, Malmö, Sweden
NAXOS 8.573139 [71:40]

I’ve not come across the early A major symphony since it appeared many years ago on a long lost LP recorded by Martinon. I could hardly remember a single note of it when I played this CD. That probably says it all. However, this is the work of a 15 year old so it would be churlish to get sniffy about it. The symphony is still a remarkable effort from one so young. Essentially a homage to Mozart it’s a tuneful and very skilful piece of craftsmanship. In the first movement there are references along the way to the four note motif from the last movement of the Jupiter symphony. This same motif also occurs in the Third Symphony — 6:15 in the third section prior to the great organ entry — so it seems that Mozart remained an important composer in the life of Saint-Saëns even during his mature period. There are hints of Schubert and Mendelssohn in the two central movements followed by a lively finale in the style of Mozart. It’s all very agreeable. The performance is excellent and has been captured in warm, close sound.

Turning now to the much recorded Organ Symphony I’m afraid we enter a market that already has several fine versions and despite this Naxos offering being good, unfortunately good simply isn’t good enough when up against some stellar opposition. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the standard of orchestral execution but we need more than orchestral excellence to grab the attention. Turning to specifics the Poco adagio is unbelievably slow and the great tune loses its shape despite the best efforts of the splendid orchestra. The Allegro moderato has plenty of thrust to it but where are the timps? They are swamped and backward – maybe soft sticks are the problem. This lack of bite makes the performance as a whole sound lethargic. The final blow for many will be the famous organ entry. It’s a real damp squibb and doesn’t have the thrilling, all engulfing effect you experience from Barenboim (DGG) or Dutoit (Decca) or for that matter on the old Mercury version under Paray (my favourite). The organ should dominate but what we have here is a rather feeble sounding instrument that merely blends in with the rest of the orchestra. Reading the booklet notes the organ is in fact a console using virtual pipe organ software with digital sampling taken from an organ in Caen, France. I would have preferred a recording venue with a decent, regular church organ at hand. Whereas the A major symphony with its traditional classical forces sounds excellent the Organ symphony recording lacks amplitude and sparkle. It’s smooth, plush and warm but it just isn’t particularly exciting. The fast passages are lacking bite.

Le rouet d’Omphale completes the programme and very good it is too. The scampering spinning theme is delicately palyed and the Hercules section is dark and ominous. The ending is reminiscent of Pohjola’s Daughter with the music slowly disappearing and fading away into a puff of smoke. Maybe this CD will sell despite the Organ Symphony. Most readers will have the old warhorse in their collections anyway. The playing throughout, despite the interpretive issues I have highlighted in the Organ symphony, is always good. This disc is really only recommendable for the “fillers”. That may good enough to tempt people at the price.

John Whitmore

Previous review: Gwyn Parry-Jones

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