Philippe Bélanger / Yannick Nézet-Séguin / Orchestre Métropolitain

Saint-Saëns: Symphonie No. 3

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Long used as a vehicle for showing off advances in recording technology, Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 in C minor, "Organ," has been featured as a sonic extravaganza in almost every format, and seems made to order for SACD. Due to its wide dynamic range, variety of textures, and vibrant timbral palette, this popular symphony offers everything a connoisseur of audio fidelity could expect in a demonstration piece. But beyond its showy aspects, Saint-Saëns' best-known symphony is also a stirring work that is representative of his mature, late-Romantic style, classically poised and elegant in form, but rich in harmonies and compelling in its long-breathed melodies. This exciting performance by organist Philippe Bélanger, pianists Jennifer Bourdages and Danielle Boucher, and the Metropolitan Orchestra of Greater Montreal, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, delivers both brilliant effects and transparent playing; especially gratifying to hear are the details in the orchestration, particularly the inner voices in the counterpoint, which are often lost in less attentive performances. Sometimes Nézet-Séguin's tempos seem a little on the slow side, perhaps to allow for better coordination between the organ and the orchestra, and the extraordinarily lively acoustics of the St. Joseph Oratory may have contributed to the conductor's cautiousness. But when considered as a whole, the performance works, and the wonderfully resonant sound and the clear details are a reasonable trade-off for the slightly slower pacing. The solo encores -- Alexandre Guilmant's March on Handel's "Lift Up Your Heads," Louis Vierne's Carillon de Westminster, and the Allegro vivace from Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony No. 6 for organ -- provide Bélanger a place to shine and are lollipops organ fans will appreciate, though listeners who buy this SACD for the phenomenal sound will find these pieces less colorful than the symphony.

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