Camille Saint-Saëns is a composer that I greatly admire.
It is quite remarkable that his prolific composing career spanned
some seventy years. When he began composing Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer,
Schumann and Chopin were all writing music. At the other end
of his lifespan Saint-Saëns was still creatively active
when Stravinsky was shocking the music world with his The
Rite of Spring, and Schoenberg and Webern were writing their
radical twelve-tone music.
Interest in the music of Saint-Saëns was undoubtedly assisted
by the 50th anniversary of his death that fell in 1971 and the
150th anniversary of his birth that came in 1985. German label
Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG) has served the cause
of Saint-Saëns well by producing four beautifully recorded
discs of chamber and solo piano music. Another welcome addition
to the Saint-Saëns discography on MDG is this splendid
three disc set for unaccompanied organ.
Renowned organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll completed
the construction of the organ used here with its four manual
console and 48 stops in 1846. It is this same Cavaillé-Coll
instrument that Saint-Saëns would have played during his
period as organist at La Madeleine during the years 1857-77.
A splendid array of colourful sonorities and a myriad wondrous
sounds are on display here.
With a compositional span of over sixty years Saint-Saëns’
organ music is revealed as consistently varied and inventive,
often atmospheric, frequently spiritual, colourful and frequently
memorably melodic. Opening Ben van Oosten’s programme
is the splendid Marche réligieuse, Op. 107 from
1897 bearing a dedication to Queen Marie-Christine of Spain.
This is a weighty, imperial march, splendidly demonstrating
the awesome power of this magnificent instrument. I also thoroughly
enjoyed the Trois Rhapsodies sur des Cantiques bretons,
Op. 7, a relatively early work from 1866. Bearing a dedication
to Gabriel Fauré the three Rhapsodies were written
after Saint-Saëns had made a pilgrimage with Fauré
to the Chapelle Sainte-Anne-la-Palud in the Bretagne region
of France. The Rhapsody No. 2 in D major stands out with
its weighty and stirring fanfare reminding me of Mendelssohn’s
Wedding March. Remarkable writing is found in the Trois
Préludes et Fugues, Op. 99 from 1894. It is dedicated
to his organist friends Widor, Guilmant and Gigout. Especially
appealing is the Prélude No. 1 in E major with
its graceful meandering theme creating a pool of calm. I was
struck by the meditative quality of the Élévation
ou Communion, Op. 13 written around 1856 but published some
24 years later. Dedicated to organist Alexis Chauvet the E major
score is a contemplative Andantino designed to accompany
the communion section of the mass. The always authoritative
van Oosten is very much at home with the Cavaillé-Coll
organ. His undoubted prowess makes him an impressive advocate
for this rewarding repertoire.
Recorded at the church of La Madeleine, Paris the MDG engineers
have produced first class sound quality. I must mention the
excellent booklet notes that are both interesting and highly
detailed. They are a perfect example of the standard of documentation
that can be achieved. Admirers of Saint-Saëns’ music
will surely relish this excellent release. It will also draw
in lovers of late-Romantic organ music looking for something
a little different.
Marche réligieuse, Op. 107 (1897) [5:14]
Trois Rhapsodies sur des Cantiques bretons, Op. 7 (1866)
No. 1 in E major [5:35]
No. 2 in major [6:36]
No. 3 in A minor [8:20]
Fantaisie in E flat major, without opus number (1857) [5:50]
Fantaisie in D flat major, Op. 101 (1895) [12:04]
Fantaisie in C major, Op. 157 (1919) [12:54]
Trois Préludes et Fugues, Op. 99 (1894)
No. 1 in E major [9:51]
No. 2 in B major [8:03]
No. 3 in E flat major [7:16]
Trois Préludes et Fugues, Op. 109 (1898)
No. 1 in D minor [9:37]
No. 2 in G major [5:39]
No. 3 in C major [8:57]
Bénédiction nuptiale in F major, Op. 9 (1859)
Sept Improvisations, Op. 150 (1916/17) [38:58]
Cyprès No. 1 from set of Cyprès et Lauriers, Op.
156 (1919) [7:48]
Élévation ou Communion in E major, Op. 13 (c.