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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Complete Organ Works and Motets Vol. 1

Veni creator, Hymne pour quatre voix d'hommes (1858) [7'12]
Thème, variations et Choral sur le Dies irae [6'22]
Prélude et fugue en re mineur op. 109 [9'18]
Ave, Maria (1914) [4'16]
Laudate (1916) [2'33]
Troisième Fantaisie op. 157 (1919) [14'28]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Salve Regina [4'24]

La prédication aux oiseaux (1863) [13'12]
Vincent Genvrin, organ
Choeur Sacrum/Andris Veismanis
Rec Riga Cathedral, Latvia, La Madeleine, Paris (La predication...) 1997 DDD

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The idea of coupling the organ works of Saint-Saëns with the Motets is a good one I think; Saint-Saëns' organ music is not of a consistently high enough quality to make one necessarily want to listen through entire CDs of it. In the first of Hortus's offerings Saint-Saëns' relationship with Liszt is explored by organist Vincent Genvrin and the Latvian choir Sacrum.

The choice of Riga Cathedral's mammoth Walcker organ may seem a curious one for this repertoire. However, Saint-Saëns' music is less Cavaillé-Coll specific than the music of most of his Parisian contemporaries, (Franck is of course far more specific in his registrations, for instance). Musically speaking, much of his music, and especially the pieces inspired by Liszt, is rather Germanic - the Fugues for instance. Genvrin points out in his interesting programme note that Saint-Saëns played often in Germany, and was an admirer of Merklin, the most Germanically-inspired of the French builders of the time. It must be said that the Riga organ pulls off the challenge very well; despite its background it is large enough to contain enough reeds and other essential colours needed for the music. And, when an impossible registration is called for in the transcription of Liszt's La Prédication, Genvrin moves to La Madeleine.....

Genvrin, titulaire of Soissons Cathedral, and a former student of the late Jean Boyer, plays with a marvellously unforced musicality throughout. Only in the rather laborious op 157 Fantaisie did I find something lacking - one has to use more imagination to bring this piece off the page I think - perhaps the outer sections could be more fluid? On the other hand the Liszt transcription is wonderfully atmospheric.

The singing by the Latvian choir is good, but not exceptional. The effect of the distantly recorded Liszt Ave Maria is enchanting however, and the way in which the atmosphere and key are continued in the following Prelude et Fugue is very clever.

Hortus have made here a spacious and attractive recording at both venues. It is a shame that, given the undeniably interesting organs here recorded, no description or photos are included.

Chris Bragg

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