Since its founding in 1934, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal has distinguished itself as a leader in the orchestral life of Canada and Quebec. A cultural ambassador of the highest order, the [...]
Saint-Saëns, Moussa, Saarihao : Symphony and new works with Organ
They spoke about it
An album featuring Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, which brings back to life the emotional intensity of this unforgettable event.
— ICI Musique, Radio-Canada
A record that can be described as historical.
— Gravel le matin, ICI Radio-Canada
The organist Jean-Willy Kunz is excellent. The recording was done during a concert and it transpires during listening.
— Le Devoir
Stunning performances were captured in this exquisite recording.
— The WholeNote
A stylish and well-paced performance of Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony joins two engaging world premieres for organ soloist and orchestra, all masterfully shaped by Kent Nagano.
— BBC Music Magazine
Born in Paris, October 9, 1835
Died in Algiers, December 16, 1921
Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78, “Organ Symphony”
For grandeur, majesty and sheer tonal opulence, few
symphonies can stand beside the Third Symphony
of Saint-Saëns. The prominent contribution from the organ, the “King of Instruments,” provides an additional measure of imposing sonority to the work. Yet this symphony is an anomaly in the composer’s oeuvre. First, it is the only one of his five symphonies to achieve any lasting reputation. Furthermore, Saint-Saëns is not much regarded as a “symphonist,” and were it not for the “Organ” Symphony, he would have no more importance in this field than Fauré or Gounod. (Saint-Saëns also left two numbered and two unnumbered symphonies, all written many years before the Third).
Second, there exists virtually no French symphony upon which Saint-Saëns could have modeled his Third in terms of spaciousness and grandness of design. The last really great French symphony had been Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, which relied heavily on the kind of programmatic elements totally lacking in Saint-Saëns’ symphony. Hence, the Organ Symphony was really the fi rst in a line of grand French symphonies, which bore fruit from Franck, d’Indy and Chausson among others. And third, there is little in Saint-Saëns’ other music to prepare us for this symphony’s monumentality and its undisguised attempts to “wow” the audience.
Saint-Saëns generally conformed to the stylistic traits of much French music – charm, elegance, restraint, plus the transparent scoring, clean outlines and consummate craftsmanship of a basically classical orientation.
The Third Symphony was written in early 1886 as a commission from the Philharmonic Society of London. The fi rst performance took place in St. James’s Hall in London on May 19 of that year. It was a gala event, with the Prince and Princess of Wales (Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) in attendance. Saint-Saëns conducted his symphony after having already appeared as soloist in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in the same concert. The public loved the symphony, and critical reception was generally favorable, though some critics grumbled about its unorthodox design. The entire symphony is based on the principle of continual transformation of a “motto” theme. This theme makes its fi rst full appearance in the restless series of short detached notes in the violins, following the slow, mysterious introduction. The attentive ear will pick out this theme in its rhythmic and coloristic metamorphoses throughout the symphony – at varying times fl owing and lyrical, detached and fragmented, broad and noble, or agitated and restless.
The melodic line is also sometimes altered as well. Although ostensibly in two large parts, the work conforms basically to a standard four-movement symphony. The fi rst movement contains a contrasting second theme – a gently swaying line in the violins which serves as a contrast to the fi rst – but it is the fi rst theme (the “motto”) that is mostly developed. The Adagio movement is ushered in by soft pedal points in the organ, and unfolds leisurely in a mood of elevated and lofty contemplation. After a full, extended pause comes the agitated scherzolike movement, one of extraordinary energy and drive. Into its nervous principal theme are worked fragments of original “motto” material (lightning flashes of woodwinds). The most exultant moments are reserved for the concluding section, announced by an enormous C-major chord from the organ. Sonic thrills pile up to ever greater heights, and the symphony ends in a magnifi cent blaze of C major.
© Robert Markow
Born in Montréal, June 1, 1984
Now living in Berlin
A Globe Itself Infolding, for organ and orchestra
World premiere – OSM commission
Born in Montréal, composer and orchestral conductor
Samy Moussa leads a flourishing career in Canada as well as Germany, where he currently lives. In addition to A Globe Itself Infolding premiered on May 29 and June 1, 2014, the OSM also ordered a piece for a Youth concert, as well as three short pieces heard at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. A fourth piece, Nocturne, was also presented in February 2015. His second opera, Vastation, was premiered at the Munich Biennale last May and will have been reprised ten times. Samy Moussa studied at Université de Montréal under the supervision of José Evangelista. He also worked in the Czech Republic with Paulo Bellomia, in Finland with Magnus Lindberg and in Munich at the Hochschule fu?r Musik und Theater with Matthias Pintscher and Pascal Dusapin. The composer concedes that writing a short work for organ and orchestra constituted a veritable challenge, even thought the question of balance between solo instrument and orchestra did not figure
here (contrary to a concerto for cello or a vocal work, for example).
In A Globe Itself Infolding, the organ is first treated as an independent entity until after a short cadence it becomes progressively integrated into the orchestra, further melting into that sound through to the end. The writing is idiomatic and fi ts perfectly under the hand of Jean-Willy Kunz largely because the composer conceived of the work in terms of a piano concerto movement. The organ initiates all impulses in the piece but the composer leaves some ambiguity in the sound palette: one may wonder at any given moment whether the colour of the organ is mixing with that of the orchestra, or the other way around. The title of the work, a mixing of quotations from William Blake and the Tanakh, expresses this very ambiguity.
Samy Moussa opted for a clear and detailed score,
leaving little question as to the execution, but consider able interpretive latitude. Most of all he stove to create a work that could be integrated into the repertoire after its premiere and perhaps even becoming the fi rst movement of a large-scale concerto for organ.
© Lucie Renaud
English Translation by Marc Wieser
Born in Helsinki, Finland, October 14, 1952
Now living in Paris
Maan Varjot, for organ and orchestra
World premiere – A co-commission of the OSM, the Orchestre national de Lyon and London’s Southbank Centre.
“Very few [composers] have dared to dream sonic
images of such magnetic power as those that
Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has conjured in
her music. … To journey into Saariaho’s music is
to be confronted with the darkest and most dazzling
dimensions of your subconscious, and glimpses of
the existential journeys she has made to fi nd these
pieces”. Thus did Tom Service describe the music of
Kaija Saariaho in The Guardian.
She unquestionably ranks as one of the leading contemporary composers from her country. Following studies at the Helsinki Academy, Saariaho worked with Brian Ferneyhough in Freiburg, Germany. Her works have been commissioned by the world’s most prestigious musical organizations, including the New York Philharmonic, Lincoln Center, the Salzburg Festival, the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris) and the BBC. She has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Grawemeyer Award in 2003 for her opera L’amour de loin. Saariaho frequently draws inspiration for her compositions from extramusical sources such as literature, the environment or the night sky. In 2008 she was named Composer of the Year by Musical America.
Saariaho was an organist in her student years, but
admits to not having written much for the instrument. Maan Varjot is dedicated to the memory of the outstanding French composer Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013). In English the title translates as “Earth’s Shadows,” which come from Shelley’s poem Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats: “The One remains, the many change and pass / Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly”. The composer writes: “Maan varjot is divided into three movements. The organ and orchestra are side-by-side as two rich and powerful ‘instruments’ with several common factors that make it easy to create connections between them. But more than the common features, I am interested in the aspects that separate the instruments and give them their individual identities. For example, the orchestra has a great fl exibility which comes from the ability to create micro-tonality, glissandos, rich textures with instrumental noises or delicate multi-layered dynamics. The organ, on the other hand, has the ability to produce rich and very precise textures controlled by only one musician, as well as long sustained notes without the constraints of breathing or the length of a bow. I don’t consider this piece an organ concerto. Rather, it is a work with a prominent solo organ part, some kind of a fruitful and inspiring companionship, in which two strong but civilized personalities can co-exist.”
© Robert Markow
Born in Raiding, Hungary (now in Austria),
October 22, 1811
Died in Bayreuth, July 31, 1886
Fantasy and Fugue on B.A.C.H., for organ and orchestra (transc. J.-M. Cochereau)
It is entirely fitting that Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on B.A.C.H. be heard on this recording, not only for its glorious display of the organ’s multifarious colors and colossal power, but for the occasion that gave rise to its creation. Liszt wrote it in 1855 for the inauguration of the Ladegast organ in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Merseburg, a small German town just west of Leipzig. (Conductor Klaus Tennstedt and soprano Elisabeth Schumann rank among the town’s illustrious native citizens). The cathedral’s young organist Alexander Winterberger gave the fi rst performance on May 13, 1856 to an audience that thrilled to the sound of the largest organ in Germany at the time, with its four manuals (keyboards), 81 stops, and nearly 5,700 pipes.
In German notation, the letter B corresponds to the note B-fl at, and H to B-natural. Hence, it is possible to create a musical motif from these four letters, and many composers, including Bach himself (in The Art of the Fugue), have done just that. The motif is unremarkable in itself, but the fantastic and splendid variety of transformations and permutations through which Liszt puts it easily sustain the listener’s attention over the duration of the work. “Never before had the letters of Bach’s name yielded such a rich treasury of harmonic and melodic resource,” writes Liszt scholar Alan Walker.
The first notes we hear, played on the pedals, constitute that motif, played over and over. It will not escape the listener’s notice that the highly chromatic nature of the motif was perfectly suited to
Liszt’s own artistic sensibility, a quality we hear in so much of his piano music. After several minutes of a freely developed fantasia punctuated by massive chords, the fugal subject steals in pianissimo, misterioso. All 12 pitches are incorporated within its slowly uncoiling content. Bold harmonic adventures, startling dynamic contrasts, spectacular virtuosic fireworks, and thunderous roars of sound provide all anyone could wish for in welcoming the Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique, whose technical specifi cations exceed even those of the organ in Merseburg.
This performance is heard in a transcription for organ and orchestra, made by the French conductor Jean-Marc Cochereau (1949-2011), son of famed Notre-Dame organist Pierre Cochereau.
© Robert Markow