Saint-Saëns: Organ works (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Organ works (complete)
PERFORMER: Stefan Johannes Bleicher (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 35088 2
Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, you can seek him here, seek him there, but never really find the real Camille Saint-Saëns, and turning to the organ works is no exception. Looked at in one way, there is a pleasingly wide variety of styles on these four discs, from the rather minor liturgical pieces to the Bachian Preludes and Fugues, or from the salon sweetness of the first Fantaisie to the Lisztian abstraction of the Sept improvisations. Looked at in another, there is little esprit de corps about the collection, and one senses that Saint-Saëns’s heart was somewhere other than in his organ music. (But where, one wonders?) Bleicher’s heart is probably in the set-pieces, the Preludes and Fugues, where the decidedly Germanic organs also come into their own. The haunting second Fantaisie is solidly projected, too. It is the more evanescent music, virtually impressionistic in some cases, that tends not to fare so well, sounding stodgy and all-too-literal.

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If the bulk of the repertoire is in serioso mode, there are nevertheless plenty of character pieces, which would have benefited from a lighter touch and a ray of humour. This release is a valuable overview of a little-heard oeuvre, nonetheless. William Whitehead