Barber; Poulenc; Saint-Saëns Wks for Org & Orch

This salute to a new organ finds the Philadelphia in mouth-watering form

Author: 
Marc Rochester

Barber; Poulenc; Saint-Saëns Wks for Org & Orch

  • Toccata Festiva
  • Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani
  • Symphony No. 3, 'Organ'

Eschenbach's Poulenc is heavily romanticised, squeezing every last drop of pathos from the score and finding many moments of ravishing beauty. Latry is, for the most part, a willing accomplice - only in the swaying rhythm of the subito andante moderato do conductor and soloist seem at odds with each other - and while it is left to him to root out the music's austere and acerbic sides, he clearly relishes Eschenbach's slow tempi in reaching the work's two powerful climaxes. This performance may miss many of Poulenc's subtleties in its single-minded striving for loveliness but the wildly enthusiastic cheering from the audience seems wholly justified given the unusual breadth of this reading.

The recording was made last May at the inaugural concerts of the new organ of Philadelphia's Verizon Hall, which included the almost obligatory Saint-Saëns Symphony. Properly, this is more a test of how well an organ integrates with an orchestra than a vehicle for the organ itself, and on those terms this proves to be a wholly successful performance. Eschenbach's intuitive reading casts the work in a rich perspective, the opening possessing a tangible atmosphere of menace while the second movement's Presto positively fizzes with energy.

The organ shows its stature (the booklet tells us that, with 6938 pipes, it is the largest concert-hall organ in the US) with palpable depth in the first movement and majestic presence in the finale; but the real star of the show here is the Philadelphia Orchestra itself. Mouth-watering wind solos, gorgeous string-playing and a wonderfully crisp and cohesive sound (as it must be in what sounds a dreadfully dry acoustic) combine to create rather more memorable moments than we have a right to expect; the string entry just before the close of the first section is, as they say, to die for.

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