Notes and Editorial Reviews
Widor’s Third Symphony (1894) for organ and orchestra pays direct homage to the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony, but is in no way inferior. Like its great predecessor it consists of two pairs of linked movements, but Widor doesn’t sound anything like Saint-Saëns. His harmonic range is wider, his melodic inspiration captivating but also curiously elusive. It doesn’t sound particularly “French,” in that it’s sturdier and often grittier than you might expect. His scoring is expert; we would demand no less from the author of a well-known orchestration treatise. Certainly the piece deserves to be more popular. You can sample the transition from the scherzo to the finale below. It’s really exciting and must be quite spectacular live.
The symphony has been recorded two or three times before, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better performance than this one. The Bamberg Symphony plays with all the necessary precision and gusto. More to the point, the organ part, which is larger and more important than in the Saint-Saëns, has found an ideal exponent in Christian Schmitt. He’s got the chops for the bravura passages, and he’s extremely well balanced and integrated within the orchestra. He collaborates with conductor Stefan Solyom in a performance that really raises the roof. If the engineering sounds a touch bright now and then, it certainly does the music no harm.
Widor’s Seventh Organ Symphony dates from the late 1880s, and it’s no mere makeweight. Lasting nearly forty five minutes, and containing six substantial movements, it’s a major statement by any standard. For this work, Schmitt has at his disposal the famous Cavaillé-Coll organ at the abbey church of St. Ouen, Rouen, one of the great organ builder’s masterpieces. Those grinding pedals in the opening movement might sound rather nasty to modern ears, but the range of sonority possible on this instrument is amazing, and unique. The fourth movement scherzo, with its fluttering accompaniment and melody featuring the voix celeste (sample below) is unforgettably haunting.
In case you didn’t know, a “celeste” stop consists of at least two ranks of (usually) “string” toned pipes, one of which is tuned slightly sharp so that played together they simulate the vibrato of orchestral strings (yet another bit of evidence that orchestras in the day used it). Listening to large organ works like this takes some getting used to; I always follow with a score and have learned to live with the fact that I will always see more notes (and rhythmic detail) than I will ever hear. Schmitt plays with as much clarity and point as the instrument and the acoustic will allow, and the liberties he takes with the notated dynamics now and then always serve the music well.
The dynamic range captured by the CPO engineers at St. Ouen is pretty awesome, so be forewarned. As usual, I prefer SACD stereo to the surround format, which captures too much of the church acoustic for comfortable home listening (in my opinion), but the sonics as such are splendid.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony No. 3 in E minor, Op. 69: I. Adagio
Symphony No. 3 in E minor, Op. 69: II. Vivace
Organ Symphony No. 7 in A minor, Op. 42, No. 3: I. Moderato
Organ Symphony No. 7 in A minor, Op. 42, No. 3: II. Choral: Andante
Organ Symphony No. 7 in A minor, Op. 42, No. 3: III. Andante - Allegretto
Organ Symphony No. 7 in A minor, Op. 42, No. 3: IV. Allegro non troppo
Organ Symphony No. 7 in A minor, Op. 42, No. 3: V. Largo
Organ Symphony No. 7 in A minor, Op. 42, No. 3: VI. Finale: Allegro vivace
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