Jan Lehtola

Saint-Saëns: Preludes & Fugues; Fantasies

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Saint-Saëns: Preludes & Fugues; Fantasies Review

by James Manheim

Despite the popularity of the Saint-Saëns "Organ" Symphony, the composer's solo organ music has remained less popular than that of Widor, Vierne, and his other contemporaries. This recording by Finnish organist Jan Lehtola, performing on a marvelously colorful small Finnish instrument, may change the situation and bring Saint-Saëns sets of Bach-style preludes and fugues into the company of those for piano by Shostakovich. Saint-Saëns is thought of as a conservative composer, but paradoxically it is here, in this most conservative of genres, that he offers hints of Impressionism: his preludes and fugues seem outwardly conventional but emerge on closer hearing as sequences of textures and of subtle shades defined by the use of ornament and harmonic inflection. Sample the track 5 prelude from the Op. 99 set for a taste of the subtle way the composer turns simple figuration into a subtle color element. The Fantaisies, tracks 7-9, diverge even farther from Bachian models, with sectional constructions and a variety of moods. Lehtola gives the music a light, sensuous aspect that brings it alive and exposes a world of French organ music quite distinct from the thunderous creations of the French organ school. Even Messiaen, one suspects, might have known these works. Superbly recorded, this is a disc for any organ collection.

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