By John J. Puccio
The French composer, organist, pianist, and conductor Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) wrote his Symphony No. 3 in C-minor, “Organ,” Op. 78, in 1886. It is probably the most-popular thing he ever wrote and, as I say, remains one of the most popular pieces of classical music of any kind.
The composer divided the work into two major parts, with two divisions in each part. It’s an odd arrangement, but it essentially works out to a conventional four-movement symphony. What’s more, although most people today know the work as the “Organ Symphony,” Saint-Saens himself labeled it Symphonie No. 3 "avec orgue" (with organ). In fact, the organ only plays a part in two of the four movements, the second and the last. But it makes enough of an impression for folks to remember it.
The first movement has always seemed to me the least distinguished, the least characterful, but Maestro Yamada and the orchestra do the best they can. They establish a sweet, leisurely tempo in this section, which, if anything, leads effectively into the second, slow movement.
Coupled with the Symphony are two more organ works by French composers: Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani; and Charles-Maria Widor’s Toccata from his Symphony for Organ No. 5. The Poulenc work seems especially well suited to the understated style of Yamada and Jacobson, and it comes off with an appropriately energetic, yet spiritual and inspirational tone. Well done. As an encore, Jacobson gives the Widor Toccata a good, healthy flourish.
Producer Job Maarse and engineers Erdo Groot and Jean-Marie Geijsen recorded the music at Victory Hall, Geneva, Switzerland in August 2017. They made the recording for hybrid multichannel SACD, two-channel SACD, and two-channel CD playback. I listened in two-channel SACD.
The hall nicely complements the sound of the orchestra, giving it a degree of depth and resonance that some venues lack. The sonics are smooth and natural, not particularly transparent or “audiophile” but lifelike in their presentation. The SACD recording ensures that dynamics are there when needed, both in range and impact, although here, too, it isn’t quite in the audiophile class of clarity but more subtle. The organ makes a different impression on the ears in each of the three works on the disc. It’s restrained and a tad recessed in the Saint-Saens, more aggressive in the Poulenc, and finally comes into its own in the solo Widor piece. Of more important note, the organ is always well balanced with the orchestra, and that’s good to hear.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: