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Listening Post: Two new recordings of Saint-Saens’ giant organ Symphony no. 3


Saint-Saens, Symphony No. 3 “Organ” plus “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” and “La Muse et le Poete” performed by organist Jan Kraybill, violinist Noah Geller and cellist Mark Gibbs with Kansas City Symphony conducted by Michael Stern (Reference); Symphones No.3 “Organ”, and In A-Major with Le Rouet d’Omphale performed by organist Carl Adam Landstrom and the Malmo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marcus Soustrot (Naxos). It was Camille Saint-Saens’ good and bad luck to live, like Liszt, an extremely long life (1835-1921). Almost like Liszt now, he is thought of as a purebred Romantic with a secret reputation for radicalism. Unlike Liszt, whose experiments with tonality were brazen, Saint-Saens was a proud public reactionary at the end of his life but, at the same time, was an early advocate of appearing on recordings as a virtuoso pianist and, in 1908, became the first composer of major repute to write music for a film. It was called “L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise.” If the “Carnival of the Animals” is probably the most popular piece by Saint-Saens and the tone poems the most influential in France, it is his huge “Organ” Symphony no. 3 that is probably his greatest work. Liszt considered Saint-Saens the greatest organist of his time. His Symphony no. 3 was actually the last of five symphonies because in his lifetime Saint-Saens never counted those he wrote as a teenager. You’ll hear one of them, the Symphony in A-major written by Saint-Saens, the 15-year old prodigy in the disc by the Malmo Symphony Orchestra that also includes his third symphony. It’s in the gorgeous adagio second movement of the symphony that the organ arrives in full with still-startling gentleness, He was only 50 when he wrote his “organ” symphony but he said of it in later years “with it I have given all I could give. What I did I could not achieve again.” It’s too bad he was such a reactionary bomb-thrower against Debussy, Schoenberg et. al in his final years because in so many other ways, the wildly versatile and intellectual Saint-Saens was anticipatory of so much. These are two excellent performances of Saint-Saens’ organ symphony with the edge, if only in repertoire, going to the Kansas City Orchestra, which fills out its disc with Saint-Sanes’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” for violin and orchestra and “La Muse et le Poete” for violin, cello and orchestra. The Swedish orchestra from Malmo’s fine disc is completed by that 15-year old’s Symphony in A-Major and the familiar tone poem “Le Rouet d’Omphale.” ½ for both (Jeff Simon)

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