This second volume in Naxos’ ongoing Saint-Saëns symphony cycle is as good as the first. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised in this day and age that a work like the Organ Symphony, which used to get recorded a couple of times in a decade, should be released twice on the same label in a matter of a few months, but never mind. Marc Soustrot has some very good ideas about how the music should go, and comparison with the Slatkin on this same label is interesting. Where Slatkin took a more measured approach and emphasized precision and unanimity of ensemble, especially in the first movement, Soustrot prefers urgency even at the expense of some occasionally blurred articulation. The very slow tempo for the introduction followed by that agitated allegro highlights the broad range of contrasts typical of the performance more generally.
That said, Soustrot knows better than to drag his way through the Poco adagio second movement, while the scherzo and finale have more than enough of the necessary verve. The organ, excellently played by Carl Adam Landström, is very well balanced by the Naxos engineers, although the timpani solos in the scherzo’s main theme lack impact, and the final pages aren’t quite as splendid as they need to be. Good as the Malmö players are, this isn’t Boston under Munch, or Chicago with Barenboim. Still, this is a very fine performance of a work whose fortunes on disc have tended to wax and wane, and the presence of the very early (1850–Saint-Saëns was 15) Symphony in A major plus the tone poem Le rouet d’Omphale, equally well played, constitutes a considerable bonus. Looks like we’re waxing.