Camille Saint-Saëns: Trois tableaux symphoniques d’après “La Foi”, opus 130 – Samson et Dalila, opus 47: “Bacchanale” – Symphony n° 3 in C minor ‘Organ’, opus 78
Madeline Adkins (concertmaster), Paul Jacobs (organ), Utah Symphony, Thierry Fischer (music director)
Live recording: Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah (December 1 and 2, 2017) – 75’15
Hyperion CDA68201 – (Distributed by PIAS) – Booklet in English, French and German
Thierry Fischer’s been building his legacy since setting foot inside the Beehive State in 2009. While he’s set his sights high by corralling symphonic cycles around Nielsen, Ives and Mahler, the conductor is now turning to Saint-Saëns. This CD has a noteworthy asterisk: this is the first American orchestra to enter the French repertoire alongside Hyperion Records to record all of Camille Saint-Saëns’ five symphonies (spread out in three volumes, this being the premiere release.) This first issue judiciously turns to the familiar ‘Organ’ Symphony as the anchor with an adjunct to an Egyptian landscape and an apportioned balletic, biblical clip from The Old Testament’s “Book of Judges.”
The CD ignites with the cabalistic, recherché symphonic extraction of incidental music for Eugène Brieux’s play, La Foi of 1909. In this glimpse, Thierry Fischer pinpoints Saint-Saëns’ ability to paint the scène with peppered, exotic flavoring (Saint-Saëns had an affinity to travel to Northern Africa.) Notational editor Roger Nichols, however, fades with respect to expansion of synopsis of the musically-truncated five-act drama. Ultimately, this could have rendered additional comprehension; nonetheless, the music has an easy approach, is easy to digest, and is easy on the ear, stamped with a verifiable posturing of “sit back and relax” mentality.
Moreover, Utah Symphony’s examination of this three tableaux compendium is politely inquisitive, sincere on déclaration and crystalline in detail. We’re introduced to zills (7’57) and other Egyptian percussive instruments that are indicative of the Northern Saharan ecumene. This highlights the impending conflict of a challenge to the religious status quo. To a certain extent the musical argument falls “off the shoulder” from the written documentary, and, therefore, dilutes the underlying importance of Saint-Saëns’ duties to the playwright.
We find yet another ecumenical debauchery within Samson et Dalila’s “Bacchanal.” The readily erotic passage has Maestro Fischer choosing a more flattened, conservative plane. Initialized moments of anxiousness are paltry with an inner Philistine bubble waiting to break into ecstasy. Eventually the conductor unleashes the score through the frenetic timpani clause that ultimately gathers and climaxes to a satisfying end.
Since the primary focus of this three-volume extraction centers around Saint-Saëns’ symphonic anthology, the best rendition inside this CD is the Symphony n° 3. Patience plays its virtue as M. Fischer carefully builds crescendos during the opening “Adagio – Allegro moderato.” At the outset of the third movement, the “Allegro moderato – Presto” methodically paces, reminding listeners of the delightful 1995 Australian-American movie, Babe. The rendition engages, and it focuses the listener into the dramatic conflict with polished acuity. Flutes are flouncy, piano runs are meticulous while strings herald as a dominante, classical passage.
Paul Jacobs’ pipes shine with unshakable dynamite. The Organ teases in the “Poco adagio” while grandeur and stately form pervade within the “Maestoso”: he’s the catalyst for a passionate apex. Step by step M. Fischer builds strength and leads the Utah Symphony to a crowning finish. The final measures possess some of the most visceral approaches, and, thus, Thierry Fischer wins with masterful diction at this particular moment in time.
Generally speaking, Thierry Fischer’s tempos are respectueusement approprié to Camille Saint-Saëns. While Hyperion’s release has substance and verve, comparisons will turn the clock back to earlier releases (i.e. Jean Martinon on EMI as it pertains specifically to the Symphony n° 3) and French subtleties. We’ll see how Volume II sets up in 2019.