James O'Donnell / Yannick Nézet-Séguin / London Philharmonic Orchestra

Poulenc: Organ Concerto; Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 ("Organ")

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In terms of concert programming, pairing the Organ Concerto in G minor of Francis Poulenc with the Symphony No. 3 in C minor, "Organ," of Camille Saint-Saëns is an obvious and easy choice, and this explains their frequent appearances together on CD. The concerto calls for organ, strings, and timpani, while the organ is treated in the symphony as a significant instrument, though not quite a solo part. Even so, the pieces work well together because Poulenc's gothic music creates a dark, brooding mood that is contrasted by the brightness and transparent scoring of the symphony, which ends with a suitably triumphant Finale. This recording by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the London Philharmonic Orchestra features James O'Donnell as the organ soloist, and the live recording presents everyone to best advantage in the resonant acoustics of London's Southbank Centre. One problem organists find in playing both works is the time lag between the orchestra and the sound coming from the pipes, which often requires that the soloist play a fraction of a beat before the conductor to come out together. O'Donnell's timing seems to be impeccable, and his precision pays off in the fast passages of the concerto, while the mostly chordal organ part in the symphony is exact and seems effortless. The recorded sound of the performances is warm, deep, and full of presence, and there is virtually no audience noise except the enthusiastic applause at the end.

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