Traditionally heralded as a “sonic spectacular,” the Saint-Saens “Organ” Symphony makes a perfect vehicle for high definition and audiophile technology, with its string tremolandi, wickedly piercing woodwind riffs, tympani, and piano obbligati, as well as the voluminous sound of the organ’s diapason at full throttle with trumpets. From its opening sequence, rife with allusions to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, to its triumphant conclusion, the symphony combines French heraldry with vehement Lisztian spaciousness.
Transferred from an EMI 4-track tape, Georges Pretre’s version of the Organ Symphony, with composer-performer Durufle at the organ, relishes its massive textures and creamy sonorities. The shimmering gloss of the second movement, with its modal processional, makes a powerful impression, at once erotic and devotional. The organ pedal, along with its oboe stop, had my sound space floor vibrating in Technicolor. What an infinite quiet surrounds the halo of strings in the second movement, whose upward, liquid climaxes approximate the ecstasies of Wagner’s Tristan. The Scherzo’s riffs, the string pizzicati and tympani rolls, invoke Samson et Dalilah, here realized with terrific momentum. Even the triangle reverberates from outer space, as do the punctuations from the trumpets. Silken segue to the religioso processional of the last movement, some harmonies indebted to Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony. A touch of thematic cyclicism, and Durufle blows us away. For a moment we swim with the fishes from Carnival of the Animals, then we march to Valhalla. If it is not Pretre leading the orchestra, it might be Charlton Heston! The coda – with cymbals crashing, strings aglow, organ in full throttle, is either devastating or ravishing, depending on your company at the time.
The Ansermet triptych of overtures derive from a London 4-track tape. They make a delightful foil for the splashy pomp of the Saint-Saens, just as sophisticated and impertinent in their own way. Lovely oboe solo for the cabaletta Au mont Ida. Between whirling dervish riffs and the Can-Can, Orpheus in the Underworld balances all the elements: the clarinet, harp, and oboe an elegant color blend. The snare drum opens Auber, followed by a gently brisk march. Shades of von Suppe as we gallop with resounding force, the gradual crescendos right out of Rossini. Resplendent fun! I still recall with fervor Ansermet’s last sessions for London, which included a rousing D Minor Scherzo for Orchestra by Eduard Lalo–would that were restored via HDTT! Lots of exclamation marks on all counts!
— Gary Lemco