The output of Camille Saint-Saëns was an impressive one, yet for some reason, a great many of his pieces lie in relative obscurity today. Among these are two symphonies – both early works – and both overshadowed by the lavish “Organ” symphony of 1886. Critics tend to dismiss them as derivative, but they remain fine examples of a young composer’s first forays into symphonic writing as evidenced here on this splendid Hyperion recording featuring the Utah Symphony conducted by Thierry Fischer.
From the majestic opening measures of the Symphony in E flat from 1853, it’s clear that the orchestra is in full command of this buoyant and optimistic music. The martial mood of the first movement is continued in the second movement Scherzo, followed by a lyrical Adagio. The Finale: Allegro Maestoso is exactly that – majestic and ceremonious music, where the Utah’s formidable brass section is given ample opportunity to demonstrate its prowess, and the triumphant conclusion performed with great panache.
The Symphony in A Major is an even earlier work, composed c.1850 when the composer was all of 15. There are echoes of Beethoven and Mendelssohn here, particularly in the sunny third movement Scherzo and the jubilant Allegro molto finale. Again, the orchestra delivers a stylish and convincing performance under Fischer’s sensitive baton.
Interspersed between the two symphonies is the popular Carnival of the Animals. The musical menagerie with its braying, squawking and clucking is proof indeed that the dignified 53-year-old composer – forever sporting a beard and a frock coat – had a keen sense of humour after all.
Bien fait! This is a wonderful recording showcasing two of Saint-Saëns’ less well-known orchestral works along with one of his most familiar – a welcome addition to the catalogue.