Poulenc, Saint-Saëns

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COMPOSERS: Poulenc,Saint-Saens
WORKS: Poulenc: Organ Concerto; Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: ames O’Donnell (organ); LPO/Yannick Nézet-Séguin


Organ music sometimes appears to have a parallel existence to that of other instruments, but Poulenc’s Concerto and Saint-Saëns’s Symphony are firmly established in the general concert repertoire. Captured at the Pull Out All the Stops festival celebrating the refurbished organ at the Royal Festival Hall, these live performances showcase different aspects of this remarkable instrument’s capabilities in tandem with orchestra.

The Poulenc is generally a hard-edged performance, James O’Donnell dispatching its dramatic opening with a brisk imperious strut rather than a grandiose swagger. He is answered by the fizzing strings of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and taut timpani thwacks. It is an effective approach for much of the time, even though it occasionally results in O’Donnell and Yannick Nézet-Séguin taking each other unawares. However, driving tempo periodically turns into impatience, especially at transitions. They allow too little space at key moments, as if over-compensating for the Royal Festival Hall’s lack of resonant acoustic relative to O’Donnell’s customary Westminster Abbey. All is almost forgiven, though, with the beautifully poised yet portentous calm of the final section, its Stravinskian echoes foreshadowing the end of Dialogues des Carmelites.

The organ is much more the guest at the orchestra’s party in Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony, and Nézet-Séguin’s firm hand is more effective here, never letting the opening movement sag. The third movement has real bite, and O’Donnell ensures the organ crowns the final movement in a suitably joyous blaze of glory.


Christopher Dingle