Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Poulenc: Organ Concerto*. Peter Hurford, organ; Charles Dutoit, Orchestre symphonique de Montreal; *Philharmonia Orchestra. Decca Originals 475 7728.

It seemed to me that Charles Dutoit had recorded the Symphony No. 3 "Organ" by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) just a few years ago, yet he did it in 1982, going on thirty years back. Amazing. Nevertheless, this remastering in the Decca "Original" series didn't impress me any more on my most-recent listening than it did all those many years ago. That's not to say I disliked it; only that I like several other recordings better.

Dutoit conducts in an urbane, cultured musical style, with everything neatly and effortlessly in place.  He's not one to take many chances, and his manner meshes well with some kinds of music--Ravel, for instance, Debussy, and the French impressionists. In a big, loud, sometimes boisterous piece like the Organ Symphony, however, he seems too confined, too suave, too polished; everything sounds too well ordered, too perfect, if you will. And it doesn't help the situation that the Decca recording is ultrasmooth as well, with not quite enough deep organ bass to pull it off really successfully.

I found the accompanying Poulenc Organ Concerto a tad fresher, recorded a decade later in 1992, and with the Philharmonia Orchestra rather than with Dutoit's usual Montreal Symphony. The Poulenc performance has a little more life to it, and the recording is a bit closer and more dynamic.

Still, it's the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony that most people will probably want, and here one might do better with Louis Fremaux and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on a mid-priced EMI compact disc or Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony on an RCA SACD (or an expensive but worthwhile JVC XRCD). Both Fremaux and Munch are more exciting, more electrifying than Dutoit, and even though the quality of their recordings may not be as refined as Decca's, they are better in other ways, like deep bass and transparency.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa