Thierry Fischer / Utah Symphony

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 2 in A minor; Symphony in F major 'Urbs Roma'; Danse macabre

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Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 2 in A minor; Symphony in F major 'Urbs Roma'; Danse macabre Review

by James Manheim

You might say that Camille Saint-Saëns has been on the comeback trail, with a good deal of little-known music being rediscovered and performed. You might say the same of the Utah Symphony under conductor Thierry Fischer, who has now embarked, with wonderful results, on a cycle of Saint-Saëns' orchestral music. On this release, the second in the series, the two trends come together with superior results. All the works date from the 1850s, early in the composer's career. For Saint-Saëns fans, the main draw may be the rare Symphony in F major, ("Urbs Roma"), written in 1856 for a contest when the composer was 21. "Urbs Roma" was his pseudonym for the contest. Saint-Saëns won the contest but suppressed the work, which remained unpublished until 1974. It's easy to see what he didn't like about it; it has a broad, Germanic tone that reflects little of his own personality, which would emerge over the next few years. However, it's full of surprises and has the exuberance of the young Saint-Saëns. Exuberance is the keyword of the Symphony No. 2 in A minor, Op. 55, in which the composer seemed determined to pack as many events as possible into a conventional-sounding symphonic form. Sample the Scherzo, which works out an entirely original structure, with a delightful surprise of a conclusion, within a mere four and a half minutes. Fischer's strategy seems to be to include one famous work per album. Here, it's the Danse macabre, Op. 40, which benefits from a star violinist, rather than the orchestral player it gets here. The Utah Symphony, however, responds beautifully to Fischer's Gallic touch, and Hyperion's engineers do well in what were perhaps the unfamiliar surroundings of Salt Lake City's Abravanel Hall. Highly recommended.

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