*SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C minor “Organ;” BARBER: Toccata Festiva for organ and orchestra; POULENC: Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani – Olivier Latry, organ/ The Philadelphia Orchestra/ Christoph Eschenbach – Ondine

by | Apr 11, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C minor “Organ;” BARBER: Toccata Festiva for organ and orchestra; POULENC: Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani – Olivier Latry, organ/ The Philadelphia Orchestra/ Christoph Eschenbach – Ondine Multichannel (5.0) SACD ODE 10984-5, 79:11 *****:

Another winner of a SACD from the new collaboration of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the enterprising Finnish classical label Ondine – replacing the highly-rated orchestra’s former long-running contract with Columbia/Sony Classical, and before that RCA/BMG.  This is the fourth SACD from their new series, with all performances recorded live before an audience, the same as done by the San Francisco, London Symphony and Concertgebouw orchestras on their SACD series.

Rather than opening with the Saint-Saëns Symphony, the disc starts with the spectacular Barber Toccata Festiva – a quarter-hour-long work that well fits its title and features plenty of virtuosic playing by organist Latry. The piece was originally commissioned of Barber in 1960 by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The pipe organ is the new Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ which was just installed in May of last year. It is the largest concert hall organ in the U.S., having 110 stops and 6,938 pipes.  Its most powerful sounds are neatly captured by the live surround recording setup engineered by Polyhymnia International, who also work with PentaTone and other labels. The balances of organ and orchestra are on the mark for all three works. What a contrast with some of the organ symphony recordings which present good performances from both organist and orchestra but a much lesser-sounding organ and/or poor balances between the two. Let’s not forget the presence of the piano in the organ symphony, which is actually more noticeable up until the boldest organ statements, which come toward the end of the last movement. The incorporation of the organ into the orchestral fabric owes much to the previous work of Franz Liszt in some of his symphonic poems.

The Poulenc organ concerto has had a couple previous SACD discings. It’s also a spectacular work, and to my thinking a better piece than the St.-Saëns. While the composer spoke of it being more austere and not as crowd-pleasing as his previous harpsichord and two-piano concertos, I find it equaling appealing and listenable. The distinctive modernist Poulenc melodic-harmonic style cannot be mistaken for anyone else. And this new recording stands out as the best yet in my opinion. A highly recommended hi-res surround release, and packed with nearly the limit of music one disc can hold, plus provided in a slipcase with a larger note booklet.

 – John Sunier

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