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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Complete Organ Works and Motets Vol. 2 - Samson et Dalila à L'Eglise

Premiere Rhapsodie sur des cantiques bretons op 7 [6'19]
Ave, Maria [2'23]
Deuxième Rhapsodie sur des cantiques bretons [6'13]
Elevation ou Communion op 13 [6'20]
Ave Verum [2'25]
Offertoire-Sarabande [3'02]
Inviolata [4'43]
O salutaris [2'05]
Interlude fugue [3'17]
Tantum Ergo [3'48]
Praeludium en ut mineur [3'20]
Sub Tuum [3'22]
Troisième Rhapsodie sur des cantiques bretons [8'27]
Deus Abraham [3'39]
Vincent Genvrin, organ, Sylvie May (soprano), Francoise Masset (soprano), Catherine Ravenne (alto)
Rec: l'eglise du Gesu, Toulouse 2003?

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Once again, an excellent release from Hortus, the second in their series of discs of the organ works and motets of Saint-Saëns. This disc, focusing on works written for liturgical performance at La Madeleine is perhaps not the most attractive in terms of repertoire. There is really no great music here, but the lovingly musical playing of Vincent Genvrin, surely one of the most talented French organists of his generation, and the slightly over-the-top operatic singing of the soloists, just right in my opinion, serve the music so well as to make this an enjoyable experience.

A major black mark is the booklet however. Hortus's booklets have a habit of missing out important information, but this misses out Saint-Saënsí dates, the technical data about the recording, in the English text, any information about the organ, and the texts of the motets! Instead we have an interesting (but duplicated in all the other Saint-Saëns discs) essay by Vincent Genvrin and adverts for other Hortus releases. Itís not good enough.

Seeing as Hortus don't want to tell English speakers, I will try to fill in some information about the fabulous Cavaillé-Coll featured here. It was built in 1864, so is an early second-period example (the Romantic period for those who like to divide Cavaillé's work into Classical, Romantic and Symphonic periods), contains just 24 stops over 2 manuals, with a 'real' pedal until middle G and the highest 10 notes 'en tirasse'. Astonishingly never restored, this marvellously preserved example is of course generally forgotten due to the presence of its 1889 monster sibling across town in St Sernin. My fellow writer for Musicweb, Graham Scott, while studying in Toulouse, used to extol the virtues of the Gesu instrument, and, on the basis of this recording itís easy to see (or hear) why. Cavaillé-Coll, perhaps more than any other builder in organ-building history, had the ability to maximise a relatively small number of stops and make an instrument that was so much more than the sum of its parts. It sounds gorgeous here, aided by the roomy acoustic.

So while the music is not the best Saint-Saëns ever wrote, this is a worthwhile release due to the quality of performances and especially the quality of the organ.

Chris Bragg

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