Symphony in A; Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
BIS BIS-2460 (CD/SACD) 75:36 mins
Unpublished until 1974, Saint-Saëns’s Symphony in A major, written by the 15 year-old prodigy at the Paris Conservatoire and likely never performed in his life, charts along with Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 the early development of his work (‘fumblings’ as he later called them) in the symphonic genre. It would be another 25 years before he returned to symphonic composition with his ‘Organ’ Symphony No. 3 in 1886.
Yet, as per this insightful recording, they are fascinating works, written between 1850-59 at a time when the French musical world still refused to countenance the viability of the French symphony, so much so that Saint-Saëns had to pretend to be an anonymous German composer when submitting the E flat major to the prestigious Société Sainte-Cécile.
These are driven, lively and largely convincing performances by the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège and Jean-Jacques Kantorow. Yes, there are obvious compositional influences, as one might expect in early works, and movements which seem to fulfil a brief yet lack depth. Still, there is the exquisite Adagio of the Symphony No. 1, thoroughly convincing under Kantorow, and the progress evident in Saint-Saëns’s movement from 15 year-old symphonist to the architect of the Second Symphony some nine years later, with its surprising and daring opening fugal Allegro – here given great urgency by the orchestra.
Sarah Urwin Jones