Saint-Saens wrote five symphonies between the years 1850 and 1886. The cycle began with the Mozart-influenced Symphony in A but as a precocious composer of 17 he wrote his first numbered symphony, a work much admired by Berlioz and Gounod. He progressed to his most popular piece in the genre, the ground-breaking Symphony No. 3 with its inclusion of organ and piano. This critically admired cycle includes a sequence of atmospheric and dramatic symphonic poems, including Phaeton and the ever-popular Danse macabre.
The standard reference versions for these works have been Martinon’s EMI (now Warner) recordings, but Soustrot’s are different enough to justify duplication. In the First Symphony, particularly, Soustrot adopts a very slow, dreamy tempo for the Adagio, but it works very well, particularly in contrast to the bold and brassy finale which follows without a break. Soustrot correctly highlights the adventurous writing for the harps, but never tastelessly, and some listeners may feel that the interpretation finds additional expressive depth in music often denigrated as merely sentimental. It’s good to hear it played with no apologies.
In the Second Symphony Soustrot comes closer to Martinon in terms of timing, but there’s no denying the extra clarity and nimbleness of the Malmö ensemble as compared to the old French National Radio and Television Orchestra for EMI. Soustrot’s exciting and rhythmically sharp reading of Phaéton makes a welcome bonus. This is unquestionably one of the best recordings of the piece, with an especially effective thunderbolt as Zeus hurls the hapless chariot (of the sun) driver from his seat. Attractively natural sonics round out a very promising start to this new series.
– ClassicsToday.com (David Hurwitz; in an earlier review of the CD release of Symphonies 1 & 2)
Marc Soustrot has some very good ideas about how the music should go. 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. The organ, excellently played by Carl Adam Landström, is very well balanced by the Naxos engineers. All told, this is a very fine performance of the Thrid.
– ClassicsToday.com (David Hurwitz; in an earlier review of the CD release of Symphony No. 3)