ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS - SYMPHONY NO. 3


CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS - SYMPHONY NO. 3 (ORGAN SYMPHONY) - PHILIPPE BÉLANGER (Organ) - YANNICK NÉZET-SÉGUIN (Conductor) - ORCHESTRE MÉTROPOLITAIN DU GRAND MONTRÉAL - ATMA SUPER AUDIO SACD22331

It took me a rather long time to make a final choice about this great symphony. After all, there are quite a few factors to keep in mind about the performance and recording of a work like this. First and of the utmost importance, the organ and orchestra should be located in the same room and recorded at the same time, unlike some dubbed recordings where the orchestra was captured in studio on one day, and the organ was taped later in a church, and later on everything was mixed together by technicians. How can the organist and conductor get into a groove that way. It's impossible. It needs to be too clinical that way, almost like painting by numbers. The next critical problem is if the performance is captured live before a large audience. This can radically change the acoustics of the hall and ruin the recording by drastically reducing the natural resonance and reverb produced by an organ within an empty building.

This recording scores on both counts. Everything was recorded together, at the same time, using mirrors and cameras, to insure that the organist and conductor were synchronized and able to see each other. I'm convinced this must convey a greater sense of power and momentum than those "fake" dubbed recordings. And the huge church used for the recording sessions was empty at the time, so you obtain that rich, natural, resonant sound.

The interpretation of the symphony as a whole is very good in this recording, but the Poco Adagio, that marvellous slow movement gets an 11 out of 10 here. The orchestral strings and organ blend perfectly, in tone and timbre, the organist using just the right registration to create a perfect match with the orchestra. The pacing and balance by the conductor has never been better.

My only nit-pick with this recording is when the organ plays it's first massive, glorious chord at the beginning of the Maestoso. Based on everything leading to this moment, the organ doesn't have enough power, enough oomph. After all, it is a 5 manual, 78 stop Beckerath organ, and the balance does seem to adjust itself near the end, but it just doesn't seem right at that moment. It sounds to me as if it was an adjustment made by the recording engineer to prevent sensitive equipment from clipping. (Maybe someone at Atma could check that out and let us know).

Regardless, if you don't know this great symphony, and even if you do, obtain a copy of this cd and bathe in the glorious sound. There are quite a few very good recordings of this work, and experts could quibble all day about the organ specifications, or about the microphone placements, or about 24bit versus analogue versus DSD and on and on .... but hey, this one sounds just fine to me.

Jean-Yves Duperron