Sorry, Vic. I forgot to mention some more options for Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony.
There is a true plethora of quite competent recordings. The one with Eschenbach is the top of the newer (and more recent) ones and in spectacular SACD sound, on Ondine. From the less recent, Karajan, with BPO in top form, is a safe choice. Going a bit back, Ormandy with the great Philadelphia on Telarc is convincing and bright. Simon with LPO, on Cala, is interesting with a very intriguing coupling, namely the rarely performed Requiem.
From the old masters, definitely Jean Martinon, on Emi or Erato (with M.Cl. Allain on orgue) and Ansermet on Decca Eloquence.
I hope these maybe enough.
Like Naupilus I tend to use my (good) instinct paired with reviews when buying records.
You also learn to distinguish between your critics. I don't even read Bryce Morrison since Hatto gate, I think he is discredited.
I think however that VicJay is underestimating the value of acquiring a good (the best, as is sometimes claimed) performance of a particular work. Personally, I have too many examples of works which I initially, sometimes for years, found boring, until I came across the right recording by accident, on the radio, from friends, etc.
To give a few examples, I used to think that Haydn's Symphony no 94 was the poorest of his London symphonies. Until Szell taught me how it should go (in particular the minuet). I had been putting my faith in Bernstein.
Similarly, Harnoncourt, Karajan and Kubelik had taught me that Dvorak 9 was a reasonably pleasant work if you don't listen to it too often - until Ancerl blew me out of the water. Critics keps telling me to listen out for the famous slow movement but I later discovered that anybody in front of Concertgebouw or BPO can do this - these distingished players know how to play their instruments - but only Ancerl can give the Scherzo and the finale the swagger which brings this symphony a level above the usual national romantic fuddle-duddle.
The berated Viennese classics is another example. Why waste your time?, I always thought. Until Fricsay showed me how they should go.
Sviatoslav Richter taught me everything about Schubert's piano music. Paul Lewis' 17 min of a first movement D894 leaves me longing for the end. Richter's 24 minutes, I don't notice.
I think however that VicJay is underestimating the value of acquiring a good (the best, as is sometimes claimed) performance of a particular work.
I obviously didn't make my point clear enough. With the exception of, say, a dozen or so works, my interest is in selecting the "good" rather than the "best" by using reviews and recommendations, as Lance says earlier, to select out the mediocre or the poor. I am not a "collector" in that sense.
I want the "best" Messiah, Bach B minor Mass, Beethoven's Ninth and Missa Solemnis, his late string quartets, Mozart's C minor Mass, and a few others. I know that time and experience will add to the list.
However, and this was my point. As I add music that is new to me, my only choice is to buy on spec or follow advice. I want more Schubert piano sonatas so when I see an excellent review of the latest Paul Lewis, I know it will be good enough for me, even though it might not achieve the "definitive" accolade. I'm sure that most buyers are like me - not expert enough to distinguish excellence, or not rich enough or keen enough to buy every new version, but to recognise quality when guided towards it.
On the Saint Saens, thanks for the advice guys. I have, in order of my preference:
Eschenbach, Philadelphia Orchestra on Ondine,
Fremaux, CBSO on EMI (also on LP which delivers the most impressive sound that comes out of my system. That organ moves the seat I'm listening from!),
Barenboim, Chicago SO, on DG,
Marin Alsop, BBC Phil, on BBC MM coverdisc,
Tortelier, Ulster Orchestra, on Chandos.
Would the Bruch or Karajan (or any other) have anything over these, in posters' opinion? For this work, I want "the best" and don't mind how many I need in the search for it!
The Karajan recording has the huge organ of Notre Dame recorded separately and added over the orchestra in almost comically unrealistic fashion. You might want to sample this before buying. Levine's DG recording is a safer bet with the same orchestra.
Probably the most classic recording that you don't have is Munch/Boston SO on RCA Living Stereo. Swift, exciting and it still sounds pretty good for its age.
Thank Ted. That's two votes for Munch (who I meant when I wrote Bruch for some reason.) I will order it in my next batch, I think I'll pass on the Karajan, much as I usually like him. I can live without "comically unrealistic"!
In my system, it doesn't sound "comically unrealistic" and the BPO is in top form under the very polished and refined conducting of Karajan, in very impressive sound. However, I can understand it may sound differently in other systems.
From the old ones, I still believe one of the Martinon recordings is a safe bet. He was a very good exponent of Saint-Saens. Munch, of course, was a great exponent of French music, in general (see his Berlioz).
I dug out my Karajan CD (a meagre 38 mins) this evening for a listen. I have the original release, not the later Karajan Gold version. So I don't know if they later managed to improve it (although I don't recall ever having seen anyone suggest they had).
The end creates a bombastic fervour which in its way is quite exciting. However the organ has what I can only describe a harsh fuzz dominating its sound which is especially noticeable when it makes its big entry in the finale. I listened on both speakers and headphones. I can't believe that the real Notre Dame organ sounds like this and I'm surprised that the organist, Cochereau, allowed it to be released.
For whatever it's worth I'd second the recommendation of the Munch recording. With Saint-Saens less is very often more, and Munch exercise a beautiful restraint which adds to to the music.
I find that Camille's music along with that of Berlioz and Tchaikovsky (and without doubt other composers) is so tuneful that restraint works better than the deliberate exposure. So, when I read usually glowing reviews of Davis' Berlioz or Pletnev's Tchaikovsky I tend not to heat them (this is where the good instinct kicks in). It may be for some, but I instinctively know that it isn't for me. The tuneful music speaks for itself, it doesn't need promoters. Munch, Ansermet, Markevitch work in Berlioz, Mravinsky, Fricsay or Markevich display similar qualities in Tchaikovsky.
I think I'll change my first choice! Perhaps Saint Saens Third is one of those works where the recording I've just heard is the best. I just played my Classic Records 180g LP pressing of the Munch/Boston and it really is STUNNING. Beautifully played, glorious strings and a perfectly balanced recording with superb stereo imaging (even better than my original Columbia Studio Two pressing of the Fremaux). I know you like LPs Vic and if you can get a copy of the LP it won't be cheap but it may be worth it. (I see Classic Records.com still have it listed now as a 200g pressing but not their UK dealer Diverse Vinyl - perhaps they could get it though).
Christmas before last it was Rossini and I received as gifts or bought a shedload of the stuff.
This included the Gramophone Award winning Ermione.
Last Christmas I decided to repeat the exercise but, this time, with Donizetti.
Odd, or not, that, in both cases, I end up with mostly Opera Rara, God, or in the case of there not being one, simply, bless them.
In passing, I had the Boult/Lyrita/Elgar 2nd on LP, sorry:vynil. Not only do I think that this was Boult's best recording of the work but the best recording of the work.
HMV, allow me to underscore that Saint-Saens, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky's music is not "so tuneful"...only. It's also quite complex and masterly in structure and orchestration. So, their music needs the necessary and appropriate exposure to show all these aspects of the actual works. Their tuneful music doesn't necessarily speak for itself. It needs the respective "promoter" as well.
Having said that, I don't mean that the conductors you mentioned do not do what they have to do. They are actually quite good promoters, but Davis or Pletnev (for that matter) are doing, in their own way, a brilliant work of exposing certain important aspects of this music as well.
I understand your general point (the non-interventionist apporach) but I am not sure I would put Mravinsky in that category. While he does not pull around the tempos too much his does display use effects, such as the trick of pulling back just before climaxes (Jansons does much the same on his Chandos recordings, but somehow it just comes across as mannered to me - a case of the pupil not having the magic of the master, just the tricks). It does help of course the 1960's Leningrad Philharmonic is just one of the most amazing sounds ever (as distinctive to my ears as the contemporary Berlin Phil with Karajan). For me the Mravinsky Tchaikovsky (DG) Symphony recordings are one of the glories of all recorded music (that I have heard) and certainly this is one case where I have almost given up listening to any other recording. The fifth is awesome...
I understand your general point (the non-interventionist approach) but I am not sure I would put Mravinsky in that category. While he does not pull around the tempos too much his does display use effects, such as the trick of pulling back just before climaxes (Jansons does much the same on his Chandos recordings, but somehow it just comes across as mannered to me - a case of the pupil not having the magic of the master, just the tricks). It does help of course the 1960's Leningrad Philharmonic is just one of the most amazing sounds ever (as distinctive to my ears as the contemporaneous Berlin Phil with Karajan). For me the Mravinsky Tchaikovsky (DG) Symphony recordings are one of the glories of all recorded music (that I have heard) and certainly this is one case where I have almost given up listening to any other recording. The fifth is awesome...
Thanks 33lp. I have ordered the Munch and the Karajan (the latter out of curiosity to see what my system makes of the sound issue as much as anything), but was shocked to see that both are over fifteen pounds each. How can labels justify such a figure for old recordings?!
I didn't have any luck with the search for a vinyl copy, my appetite whetted by your enthusiasm for the sound quality. Not that I would pay megabucks for it. The best of vinyl is, as you say, truly stunning, if relatively rare. My copy of the Fremaux is on EMI/HMV Greensleeve, (marked stereo/quadraphonic - what happened to that little fad? SACD precursor? Stereo suits my two ears, thank you.)
Looking forward to the discs' arrival and will post my reaction.