Here are the two Saint-Saëns symphonies which preceded the showoff Organ Symphony we have recently reviewed. Only 18 years of age when he wrote his First Symphony, Saint-Saëns was clearly under the influence of Schumann and Mendelssohn. The latter had turned out his string symphonies when he was only 16, but Saint-Saëns – called by critics of the period “another Mozart” – was supposedly writing his first piano works at age of three and one-half. The four-movement work is impressive in quality but rather placid and staid in nature. The Adagio movement is much longer than the other three; its lyrical main melody is continued at length over a bed of tremoloing strings. The key signature also seems to shift constantly. The Finale brings in the wind section strongly and brings back the march tempo heard at the beginning of the second movement.
The Second Symphony of six years later is noticeably more expressive, emotional, and experimental in playing around with sonata form and structure in general. A series of thirds introduced in the first movement returns thruout the work in almost cyclical fashion. The slow Adagio movement is now the very shortest of the four. The Scherzo is filled with strong accents, but still made me think occasionally of Mendelssohn Scherzos. A fairly abandoned tarantella is the form of the Prestissimo finale, which brings in a number of different themes. The quad recording sessions date from 1975 and the venue was a church in Bad Homburg (seriously), Germany. One doesn’t seriously miss the center channel and would never know this was an over-30-year-old recording if it weren’t for the fine print on the jewel box.
– John Sunier