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Second attempt for this post (I sent it into the internet ether yesterday) Saint-Saens Organ Symphony

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Posted on February 14, 2021 at 21:27:57
Chris from Lafayette
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You think of the Organ Symphony, and you think of the "big guns" of the "golden age of stereo" past: Munch and Paray.

I recently acquired a very different take on the work via an SACD the Pentatone label, with Kazuki Yamada and Ansermet's old orchestra, the OSR, and organist Christopher Jacobson. In contrast to the punch and the power of the Munch and Paray recordings, Yamada seems to be looking for something different: a lyrical envelopment, with maximum color and nuance, as well as striking inflections of the phrases. To me, Yamada's interpretation is a valid alternative to the usual way of performing this great work. The tonal quality of the different choirs of the orchestra is almost sensuously appealing in his performance, and the total corporate sound of the orchestra is irresistible, with Jacobson's registrations adding still another layer of exquisiteness to the proceedings. (And, no, the initial entrance of the organ in the finale will NOT launch you out of your seat!)



As it happens, Ansermet himself made a recording of the Organ Symphony, another "golden age" album which was overshadowed by the previously mentioned recordings. I've never heard the Ansermet performance myself, but it's certainly interesting how close Yamada's timings are to Ansermet's. And therein lies the problem, at least for a few listeners - there's one customer review on Amazon where the writer can hardly contain his dissatisfaction with Yamada's alleged "slow" tempos.

But just how slow ARE Yamada's tempos? I'm always happy to be of service, and (with the help of the timings of the movements of various performances shown on the Presto Classical site) I hereby present the following handy chart:



Not only is Ansermet just a bit slower than Yamada in all four mevements, but, in certain movements, there are some real slowpokes, such as Karajan in the slow movement, or Pretre in the finale.

There are also a couple of makeweights on this album: the Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Strings and Tympani, and the ever-popular (!) Widor Toccata. Our Amazon sourpuss poster is also bent out of shape at Jacobson's alleged "slow" tempo in the Toccata, but, BBC Music Magazine mentions that, in contrast to so many "sprint to the finish" performances of the work we've been hearing in recent years, Jacobson on this Pentatone recording actually takes Widor's indicated metronome mark (quarter note at 118) seriously! Oops! ;-)

Anyway, this is an absolutely beautiful recording, which may expand your ideas as to what is possible in the Symphony, even though it may not appeal to all types of listeners. It sure is beautiful though!

 

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Well, you certainly piqued my curiosity, posted on February 15, 2021 at 08:16:21
jdaniel@jps.net
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It sounds like the performance is "Sinopoli"-like?

I don't mind that at all. I've played the piano part in past, two of the four hands. It's far more difficult and florid than it sounds, specifically after the organ chorale.

 

Micheal Stern and Kansas City, posted on February 15, 2021 at 09:50:15
oldvinyl
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I guess I will have to have a listen to the Yamada/OSR recording. You have piqued my interest in to how a performance could surpass the Munch/BSO in terms of lush strings and lyricism.

Another great performance and fantastic recording (Reference Recordings) is this one. I have the LP version from the initial release.






Enjoy the music.

 

Yes - I have that one too, but on SACD, posted on February 15, 2021 at 11:16:46
Chris from Lafayette
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I should listen to it again - I liked it! I just pulled it off the shelf and I note that the MCh "disposition" is shown as 5.1 on the back cover, which is unusual for SACD - and something I'd forgotten about this recording. (Most are 5.0.)

I've also now included Stern and a few others in my chart - there seems to be pretty general agreement about the various tempos, but it's interesting to see who the outliers are: Paray and Toscanini in the Scherzo, Karajan in the slow movement - and Jansons (replacing Pretre) in the finale. . .



 

I've never played either set of the "two hands" in this work! [nt] ;-), posted on February 15, 2021 at 11:19:25
Chris from Lafayette
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RE: Micheal Stern and Kansas City, posted on February 15, 2021 at 11:36:07
tinear
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Thanks for that! As newcomers to KC, we've only been to two performances in the spectacular symphony hall--- but we're enthusiastically awaiting the post-Covid world to regularly attend.

 

You'd think that it would be easier with an additional two hands helping out...., posted on February 15, 2021 at 11:59:30
jdaniel@jps.net
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Here's a slow-mo version

 

RE: Well, you made me take a rare listen to the Organ Symphony. Really, I prefer his Carnival Of The Animals., posted on February 15, 2021 at 12:03:07
B. Scarpia
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BTW, did you know that Radio City Music Hall used to advertise having the "Largest Console (snicker) In The World" during the very proper Forties and Fifties?

At any rate, I have the Ormandy/Phillies Telarc and the Martinon/ORTF, always well-reviewed and featuring the, famous umm, console of the Eglise St.Louis des Invalides.

I played the Telarc. Three things always stand out for me when I listen to any performance of #3, none having to do with the Organ: the clever syncopation of the opening, the silkiness of the string tutti following the low brass chorale, and especially, the miracle of always being able to find a Pianist with six arms to play all through the conclusion.

Ormandy gives a great performance but the Soundstream boys obviously got carried away and it isn't one of Telarc's best. Shoulda cued up the Martinon. Next time I will.







Sapiens, My Ass

 

Ansermet, posted on February 15, 2021 at 13:02:14
blakey
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That Ansermet recording remains my favorite, especially on the King Super Analogue reissue on vinyl. The sound of organ is so vividly captured in the Poco adagio it gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it

 

Thanks, Chris. Found it on Qobuz and, posted on February 15, 2021 at 13:09:57
srl1
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will give it a listen in the next couple of days. It's 24/96 on Qobuz. My favorite recording is Barenboim/Chicago on DG. With the right volume at the beginning of the finale you can peel paint at 40 feet from the speakers! :)

 

For sheer sound quality alone, I keep the Finale as a demo, but ..., posted on February 15, 2021 at 19:04:53
jdaniel@jps.net
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IMHO Stern is a bit too fussy elsewhere, and in exquisite second half of the 1st mov't there's too much attention paid to subsidiary themes.

My favorite for orchestral performance and conducting alone, is Toscanini's. : ) NOT happy with grandma's living room organ though!

 

As Ms. CfL (not a fan of Saint-Saens) says to me when. . . , posted on February 16, 2021 at 11:05:40
Chris from Lafayette
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. . . I remind her that Saint-Saens wrote that he "put everything he had" into this symphony, "Well he didn't have very much then!". ;-)

Strangely enough though, she does like a few pieces by Saint-Saens, including his Etudes (except for the famous "Etude in the form of a Waltz" - too much salon fluff for her!) and his Septet (the one with the part for trumpet).

Regarding Ormandy in the Organ Symphony, I'm about to order the Dutton SACD remaster of his RCA recording. It was originally recorded in quad, and the Dutton remaster preserves the discrete quad engineering. Unfortunately, RCA's engineering at that time (the mid 70's or so) was not very good IMHO, but we'll see if the quad incarnation improves things at all.

 

It's been around for so long - I do need to hear it (maybe on Qobuz) [nt], posted on February 16, 2021 at 11:07:10
Chris from Lafayette
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If that's what you want in the finale. . . , posted on February 16, 2021 at 11:09:31
Chris from Lafayette
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. . . then this Yamada performance may be disappointing to you. ;-)

But either way, let us know what you think!

 

RE: What other reason is there? Al Stiefel would have told you that! , posted on February 16, 2021 at 12:46:25
B. Scarpia
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Back around '05 or '06, just before he died, Al and his wife came to visit me in Ohio.

He had heard the Best In Show XLH 1812 speakers at the preceding RMAF which I had for awhile at my place. He was at that time promoting his Renaissance Audio line of 811 mono blocks and they drove all the way from Colorado with the amps to hear them drive the 1812s.

We played a lot of music that day but the highlight was the CD, it might have been an SACD of the Munch Organ Symphony with the volume at 11. What a grin on his face at THE NOISE! It was the closest I've ever been to being that kid in the chair with his hair blowing off in the Pioneer advert.

A lasting memory of a wonderful man.

Sapiens, My Ass

 

Those other two hands just get in the way sometimes! [nt] ;-), posted on February 17, 2021 at 01:41:53
Chris from Lafayette
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The finale fugues are a bit "careful, " but the recording affords a wonderful, "you are there" quality , posted on February 17, 2021 at 11:41:42
jdaniel@jps.net
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Similar to others Deccas of the day.

 

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