BOYSaint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 SACD

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

From its recording of orchestral music by Nino Rota it was evident that Orchestra Métropolitain du Grand Montréal was capable of excellent results, but this disc caught me off guard. It’s absolutely marvelous, certainly the best-engineered recording of the Third Symphony made in a church, with orchestra and organ in the same room, playing together in real time. The truth is that the music really needs the drier acoustic of the concert hall, particularly in the first movement and scherzo, with their abundance of nervous rhythmic figuration. Somehow, Atma has managed to capture the necessary amount of orchestral detail, balance the organ effectively, and still give a sense of “bigness” to the acoustic space without any problem of excess reverberation. The result is something of a miracle sonically, whether in stereo or incredibly natural SACD surround formats.

Happily, the performance matches the quality of the engineering. Yannick Nézet-Séguin directs a swift, superbly rhythmic interpretation–just what the piece needs. The strings articulate their rhythms cleanly in the first movement and scherzo, with delightfully dancing woodwinds and piano runs in the latter’s trio. Climaxes have plenty of power; the slow movement sings sweetly but never cloyingly, and the finale offers maximum excitement and sonic splendor with absolutely no unnecessary bombast. It really is as good as it gets, interpretively speaking, and the Beckrath organ at the basilica of Saint-Joseph (a huge space judging from the reverberation time of the final chord) has a rich, warm, pleasing tone that blends with the orchestra extremely well. Organist Philippe Bélanger offers a very enjoyable program of encores to round out the disc, with Guilmant’s march on Handel’s “Lift Up Your Heads” a particularly welcome novelty. In short, all I can say is: Bravo! [3/27/2006]

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Munch (RCA)

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS - Symphony No. 3 "Organ"
ALEXANDRE GUILMANT - March on Handel's "Lift Up Your Heads"
LOUIS VIERNE - Carillon de Westminster
CHARLES-MARIE WIDOR - Allegro vivace from Organ Symphony No. 6

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