When it rains, it pours. This is the third recording of Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony in nearly as many months, and like the previous ones, it’s remarkably good. The Kansas City Symphony under Michael Stern withstands comparison to any of the competition. My only quibble with the interpretation comes in the first movement, where Stern’s concern for precision of rhythm, otherwise admirable, seems to preclude that last bit of intensity at the tops of those crescendos that propel the principal theme onward into the second subject.
Otherwise, this is an unusually vivacious and texturally transparent reading, recorded with welcome clarity in an acoustic that never permits detail to get obscured by excessive reverberation. The balance between organ and orchestra in the finale, even when everyone is blasting away, could not be more perfect. In the serene Adagio too, which flows with impressive poise, the soft tones of the organ add just the right touch of color to support the strings and solo woodwinds. In the scherzo, Stern keeps the rhythm taut, and he doesn’t drag out the quiet coda to the point where one’s patience begins to run thin. In the finale everyone really does pull out all of the stops, literally and figuratively, bringing the work to a thrilling conclusion.
The fillers are welcome, and not the usual stuff. Le muse et le poète is a rarely heard late tone poem with parts for solo violin and solo cello, more than ably taken by orchestra principals Noah Geller on violin and Mark Gibbs on cello. Geller also plays an excellent, sunny Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. And let’s not forget organist Jan Kraybill in the symphony. I do wish, though, that Reference Recordings had included a stop list in the booklet. The instrument has some interesting timbres and I would have liked to know what resources it calls upon to make them. Audiophiles will want to hear this for the superb sonics, but the musical values are just as strong.