SAINT-SAËNS Symphony No 3 (Fischer)
Thierry Fischer leads a superb, thoroughly enjoyable reading of Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony. While he doesn’t generate quite as much heat as Charles Munch’s classic account with the Boston Symphony (RCA, 4/93), his sense of pacing and architecture is masterly. Transitions are deftly manoeuvered, for example, as in the join between exposition and development in the opening Allegro moderato (start around 4'50"), and the naturalness with which that part eventually dissolves into the radiant Poco adagio. I was impressed, too, by the way Fischer shapes the Allegro so it seems to surge ever so gradually to its fortississimo climax at 7'44".
Fischer’s tempo for the Adagio is several notches below the composer’s metronome mark yet flows easily. I believe Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City is fitted with an electric organ (not the optimal choice), but the instrument is sonically well integrated with the orchestra, aided by engineering that provides a natural, concert-hall perspective. There are surprisingly few blemishes given this is a live recording, and these are more than made up for by a palpable frisson, particularly in the symphony’s second half. There’s tremendous rhythmic vitality and verve in what serves as the scherzo, while the finale has muscle and bite – listen, say, to the blustery violins at 6'03" – as well as glory and grandeur.
I do wish Fischer luxuriated more in the sinuous exoticism of the Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila but he pulls out the stops in the coda, at least. And although the three tableaux drawn from incidental music to Eugène Brieux’s play La foi (1909) are a roughly sewn stylistic hotchpotch full of dull as well as striking passages, Fischer seems to believe in every note, and – as in the Organ Symphony – inspires fiercely committed playing from the orchestra throughout.