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  Ondine -
  ODE 1094-5
  Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 - Latry, Eschenbach
  Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 in C minor Op. 78 "Organ Symphony", Poulenc: Organ Concerto in G minor, Barber: Toccata Festiva

Olivier Latry (organ)
Philadelphia Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 7 show all

Review by sperlsco February 20, 2007 (12 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I listened to this in multichannel SACD and found it to be an unbelievable experience. In fact, when I listen to this symphony, I want to come away from it feeling like I had a memorable experience. This is one of the few versions that pretty well satisfies me (along with the Barenboim/Chicago one). However, I can definitely see someone being put off by the eccentricities in overall tempo -- not me though. As a full piece, I like what Eschenbach is doing. Everything seems to flow very naturally and have a purpose, with the possible exception of the beginning of the second part (third movement if you will), which still works fine albeit being a bit jarring to start. In the finale, Eschenbach's accelerando into the coda is perfectly felt and absolutely thrilling (and why should it be any other way?). The organ is really superbly captured, and the brass pales only in comparison to the Chicagoans. The Philly trumpets seem to lose a little steam at the very end, but that is just picking nits. Ondine's sound is very realistic, clear, sharp, and full bodied. The organ sound can be absolutely roof and window rattling, but also very nuanced and clear.

Now do not, I repeat DO NOT listen to the Munch version after the Eschenbach, like I did. I really do like the Munch, but the RCA Living Stereo sound does not hold a candle to the stunning sonics from Ondine. I was previously impressed by the Munch organ, but it is absolutely no comparison to the realistic and roof rattling Philly one. I also listened to the SACD from the ATMA label by the Orchestra Métropolitain du Grand Montréal. It got a 10/10 from DH at Classics Today. It is a decent straight forward version, but I cannot see giving it a 10/10. The organ is no better than decent, as is the orchestra. I give the recording no extra credit for featuring a third-tier orchestra that is giving its best. Perhaps the orchestral balance is the key to the classical interpretation about which DH speaks, but it is NOT how I want to hear this symphony. In particular, the Montreal brass just do not cut it.

Would I have liked the Eschenbach one to have more normal tempos, featuring the same stunning sound, same playing, and same organ -- well ... perhaps (as long as it still contains the thrilling accelerando at the coda). But I will happily take this one. It is definitely an interpretation -- and one that I loved!

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Review by Arthur February 11, 2007 (11 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I purchased both the Munch and Barenboim Saint-Saens discs and although they both have their points, I still was searching for a Third I could really get behind. When this one was announced coupled with the Poulenc, I knew it was a must buy. But is it a must hear? In a word, Yes!
I should say straight away that I don't have much to say about the Barber: I've heard other recordings but have never really become engaged with the work. This recording certainly does it justice sonically, but as to the performance, I'll leave that to those who know this work better than me. Let me just say that I enjoyed it, something I've never really been able to say before.
But the Poulenc is another matter. It has been a favorite of mine for years and I've listened to probably a dozen recordings in that time. I'd always enjoyed Martinon's Erato reading, but I've been hoping for an SACD in state of the art sound as well. The Gillian Weir definitely did not fill that bill: the pace was rushed and the strings sounded barely capable of keeping up at that pace. It wasn't that well recorded either. This new version is a huge step forward. The pacing is maybe a little slower than I've been used to, but everything is clearly articulated, and in the soft passages especially there is magic in the interaction of the strings and the organ. The final passage in the strings (before the conclusion with organ) had me shivering with goosebumps, the playing was so intense and meaningful!
So what about the main course? Well, again to start out, the pacing is slow. The rather syncopated rhythms in winds and strings that form the back drop to much of the first movement is slow, but extremely clearly articulated. At first I felt a ltttle disappointed. I expected something a little more forceful. But as the movement progressed it sped almost imperceptibly, so that by the time the horns enter at 7:40 there is an intense excitement in the air. This reminded me almost of Furtwaengler in the subtle change of pace. The slow movement was also quite magical. Again the soft passages were probably more telling than the loud ones. For me a performance that makes me feel the musicians are approaching it as if it is chamber music is usually going to be a performance I am going to like. And this is certainly the case here. The third movement was kind of a shock after the first two movements: it definitely felt too fast. But again, as I got used to the approach it started making sense. This is a true scherzo. The finale was another piece with subtle gear changes. Another writer commented on a jarring speeding up in the coda, but to me, this felt perfectly judged.
How is the sound? I have been listening recently in 4.0 (since my wiring had to be altered after some remodelling), but it sounded quite good. It is definitely mastered at a very low level: I had to turn my system up louder than I've ever used it just to get a natural sound, but once set to that level it sounded exactly that: natural. The organ had power and majesty when called for, but also set off most of the sublime slow soft string playing in the second music by it's quiet, but insistent pulse. For the ultimate expereince, I listened in 2 channel with headphones. For me this was even better. Everything sounded perfectly natural and beautifully balanced.
Losing Eschenbach is going to be a shame for Philadelphia!

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Review by gonzostick December 26, 2007 (11 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
This recording sounds wonderful and Eschenbach has NO idea about setting tempos in French music. This conductor has a terrible tendency to play slower music at glacial tempos, without really being capable of sustaining the musical line, which Bernstein, wayward as he could be, could do brilliantly, even if being completely wrong-headed about his concept of a particular work. His conducting is stilted and Prussian in the worst sense of the word; mabe even constipated. The Philadelphia Orchestra struggles to play with any sense of ensemble in the scherzo of the Saint-Saëns because he rushes the tempo to such an extreme that, where there should be an even flow of notes, the interplay between sections of the orchestra is fitful instead of smooth and.or precise.

The adagio of the Organ Symphony, while ravishing in sonics, is another failure in pedestrian, gooey tempo. How anyone could mistake Eschenbach for a great conductor speaks volumes about the terrible state of the Classical music business and the phoney-baloney pseudo . Here is a conductor who thinks that depth comes from slug-like slow tempos, not sustaining the musical line. When not sliming his way through a slow tempo, he rushes fast tempi so the music never really settles. This is the herrky-jerrky way of Eschenbach.

The same problem afflicts the Poulenc, a work that I have played in concert and conducted, as I have the Organ Symphony AND the Barber. The balance of inner wit, sadness, and bitter irony completely escapes this conductor and the result is really tragic. The inner connections in the underlying tempos never really happen because Eschenbach really is NOT LISTENING TO HIS MUSICIANS. He is so busy proving himself a genuis by being unmusical and willful, that the overall musical line gets fractured and the performances, with the sole exception of the Barber, never really hang together.

The Dobson organ on this recording sounds absolutely magnificent. The performance of the Barber suffers from the same conductor problem as do the other two, but the work forces Eschenbach to control his erratic, unmusical conducting.

By the way, the Barber Toccata Festiva was composed for the dedication of the Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Philadelphia Academy of Music and was premiered by E. Power Biggs and Eugene Ormandy. That recording was issued only on a CBS LP and also included Biggs, Ormandy, and the Philadelphia playing a very nice performance of the Poulenc. While Biggs rewrote some of the manual passage work because he could not manage the pianistic nature of the notes, the performance is much better than this one, even in spite of the heinous acoustics of the Academy of Music. I corresponded with Maestro Ormandy about his recording while preparing my performance of the work.

To end, this disc is a mixed bag. Idiotic, willful, unmusical conducting, with a gorgeous new organ, building acoustic, and a great American orchestra. This is a horrible misfire that could have been absolutely marvelous. Buy it for the sound and the almost-good Barber. Otherwise, it's a good thing Eschenbach left Philadelphia...

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Works: 3  

Samuel Barber - Toccata Festiva
Francis Poulenc - Concerto pour orgue in G minor, Op. 93
Camille Saint-Saëns - Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 "Organ"