Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 "Organ" (CD review)
I believe it is a law that any orchestra that gets a new organ must christian it by playing Saint-Saens's "Organ" Symphony. Such is the case with the Philadelphia's new Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ, which the booklet note says is "the largest concert hall organ in the United States. Built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd. of Lake City, Iowa, it has 110 stops and 6,938 pipes ranging from the size of a drinking straw to two feet square by 32 feet in length."
Certainly, all 6,938 pipes are on prominent display here, with Philadelphia's Eschenbach excelling in the two opening numbers, Barber's Toccata Festiva and Poulenc's Concerto for Organ. Both pieces are extremely well played and generate a good deal of spirit. It is in the more-familiar Saint-Saens that we find only a middling performance. Things start out well enough with a relaxed opening movement and then a deliciously serene Adagio. But when the music starts to heat up in the second half, Eschenbach sometimes substitutes speed for excitement, and by the time of the finale, his conducting takes on a somewhat foursquare, oddly mechanical feeling. Not that any of the reading is bad, mind you; it's just a little different, and neither as exhilerating nor as smooth as my two favorite interpreters of this work, Fremaux on EMI and Munch on RCA/JVC.
Ondine recorded the organ's inaugural performance live in May of 2006, but you'd hardly know it was live until the unfortunate eruption of applause at the end. There is an excellent sense of space and depth to the sound, with a dynamic range so wide that if you are tempted to turn the volume up during the "Organ" Symphony's quiet opening chapters, you'll get knocked out of your seat as the piece moves on. The bass is also deep and satisfying, something necessary for the piece to work, but, to be fair, it is no deeper or more comforting than the bass on the Fremaux disc.
Incidentally, at the very bottom of the back of the jewel box and slipcover, you'll see the designation "SACD." I have no idea if the disc is recorded in more than two channels because nowhere does the booklet say, and I have an SACD player hooked up only to a two-channel system. But it is a hybrid disc, playable on SACD or regular CD machines, and I did notice a very slightly, very marginally wider response from the SACD layer than from the CD layer.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.