SAINT-SAËNS Organ Symphony. Carnival of the Animals
Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony and The Carnival of the Animals are rarely paired together on disc. Hugely different in scale, they have little in common other than being composed in the same year – simultaneously – but are probably the composer’s two most famous works. This seems justification enough for Antonio Pappano to couple them on this disc in which his Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia are joined by Martha Argerich as a very special guest in Saint‑Saëns’s ‘zoological fantasy’.
The Organ Symphony was recorded in concert before quite a restless Roman audience. Pappano’s orchestra pack a punch but their reading is quite measured, even when compared with Charles Dutoit and his Montreal SO. The first movement is emphatic and weighty, while the second – at over 11 minutes – feels lugubrious. Organist Daniele Rossi gently underscores the orchestra in the Poco adagio – Saint-Saëns never meant this as an organ showpiece but a symphony ‘with organ’. The Allegro moderato feels as if it scampers along but it’s all relative; Dutoit is a good 30 seconds swifter. The organ features strongly in the finale but doesn’t obliterate everything in its wake. Applause is retained.
The close recording of The Carnival of the Animals comes as a shock after the panoramic sound picture for the symphony but Pappano’s menagerie is well caricatured and this is a fun performance. Hens peck insistently, the gruff staccato of the double bass paints a jolly elephant and the persons with long ears – critics? – bray energetically. Argerich and Pappano have tremendous fun as a pair of hesitant, apologetic amateur pianists, and their aquarium ripples and swirls hypnotically. Recording levels are disconcerting though – fortes are aggressive, the xylophone rattles fiercely in ‘Fossils’ and it sounds as if the avian flute is nesting in the right-hand speaker. A fun trip to the zoo, though, but I’m less convinced about the coupling.