WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in C minor (Organ); L’Ascension
PERFORMER: Michael Matthes (organ); Bastille Opera Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung
CATALOGUE NO: 435 854-2 DDD
An elegant, fluent writer (‘I compose like an apple tree produces apples’), Saint-Saëns’s output was considerable: a dozen operas, five symphonies, tone poems, ten concertos, chamber works, songs and salon pieces. He was also active as an editor (preparing an edition of the Beethoven piano concertos, complete with new cadenzas), critic, playwright and poet. His Third Symphony (1886), dedicated to the memory of Liszt, was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society of London. Using ‘modern’ techniques of composition, paying homage to ‘ancient’ Bach, and scored for an orchestra with parts for organ and piano duet, it’s an imposing work whose Romantic apotheosis of bright C major triumph over dark C minor tragedy is reminiscent of Beethoven. A favourite with Victorian and Edwardian audiences, it doesn’t often turn up in the concert hall these days, but is otherwise well-represented on disc. Myung-Whun Chung is an inspired advocate who knows exactly how to breathe and pace its long lines and earthy climaxes. He has the full measure of its scale and drama, and his orchestra, authentically French, is impeccably drilled, with Michael Matthes (using a three-manual, 85-stop Allen organ) providing unforgettable hush and glory. Outstanding recording, resonant yet detailed.
Balancing corporate discipline with individual freedom, spiritual elation with physical energy, the coupling – Messiaen’s early, meditative L’Ascension from 1932/33 – is masterly. Ates Orga