SAINT-SAENS: Symphony No. 3 / Le Rouet d'Omphale (Gunter Appenheimer/ Imrich Szabo/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550138)
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Camille Saint-Sa?½ns (1835 - 1921)
Symphony No.3 In C Minor (Organ Symphony), Opus 78
Le Rouet d'Omphale, Opus 31
Bacchanale from "Samson & Delilah", Opus 47
Camille Saint-Sa?½ns lived a long life, composed a large amount ofmusic, and by the time of his death in 1921 at the age of 86 seemed a relic of adistant age. As a young man he had earned the nick-name of the FrenchMendelssohn. He found himself, in old age, in the world of composers such asRavel, Stravinsky and Schoenberg.
Saint-Sa?½ns was born in Paris in 1835. His father, a clerk in theMinistry of the Interior, died shortly after his son 's birth, and the boy wasbrought up by his mother and her aunt, the latter giving him his first pianolessons when he was two and a half. He showed exceptional ability and at theage of ten appeared in a public concert at the Salle Pleyel, having alreadylearned by heart all the Beethoven sonatas.
In an otherwise distinguished enough career at the Conservatoire, wherehe had composition lessons from Halevy and studied the organ with Bergist,Saint-Sa?½ns failed to win the Prix de Rome, but w rote an impressive series ofcompositions. In common with many other French composers, he took anappointment as an organist in Paris and was for nearly twenty years employed inthat capacity at the Madeleine.
For four years Saint-Sa?½ns, from 1861 until 1865, taught at the EcoleNiedermeyer and it was there that he met Gabriel Faur?¿, who was to remain hisclose friend throughout his life. His marriage in 1875 was brief and unhappyand lasted a mere six years, with his two children dying in infancy. The deathof his mother in 1888 proved a greater blow to his security, and he wasthereafter to spend a great deal of time travelling, particularly to Egypt andto AIgeria. He died in Algiers in 1921.
Saint-Sa?½ns was immensely gifted, both as a performer and as acomposer. Liszt, who heard him improvise at the Madeleine, described him as thegreatest living organist, while Hans von Buelow, who heard him read at sight atthe piano the score of Wagner's Siegfried declared him the greatest musicalmind of the time. As a pianist he performed principally his own music, avoidingthe inevitable drudgery of the mere virtuoso he might so easily have become.
The compositions of Saint-Sa?½ns cover almost every possible genre ofmusic. He w rote for the theatre and for the church, composed songs, orchestralmusic and chamber music, with works for the piano and for the organ. In stylehe deserved the comparison with Mendelssohn, sharing with that composer anability in the handling of traditional forms and techniques and a gift fororchestration.
The third and last of the numbered symphonies that Saint-Sa?½ns wrote,the so-called Organ Symphony, wascompleted in 1886, the year of the famous private jeu d'esprit, Le carnaval des animaux. It was dedicatedto the memory of Franz Liszt, who died that year in Bayreuth. The twomovements of the work include the normal structure of a four-movement symphony,with the use of cyclic thematic material, melodies or fragments of melodiesthat recur and provide over-all unity, a technique used by Cesar Franck in hisown symphony, which he had started in the same year.
The first movement, after a slow introduction, leads to a theme ofMendelssohnian character, followed by a second subject of a gentler cast. Theorgan introduces a slow movement of sadder complexion, in which memories of thecyclic theme recur, as it undergoes its Lisztian metamorphosis into somethingstill richer and stranger. A following section takes the place of a scherzo,opening with an energetic string melody, and framing a more lyrical passage atits heart. The final part of the symphony is again started by the organ,introducing an orchestral fugato.
This last movement is of considerable variety, including a chorale,that makes an early appearance in an unusual form, polyphonic writing and abrief pastoral interlude, replaced by the massive climax of the whole symphony.
Le rouet d'Omphale
belongs to a group of earlier symphonic poems written in the 1870s thatincludes Phaeton, the famous Danse macabre and La jounesse d'Hercule. The legend of theLydian queen Omphale involves the mythical hero Hercules, who was condemned byApollo to serve her in the guise of a woman, an episode in which some were tofind a moral, as the strongest of men was enslaved in this way. The symphonicpoem makes much of the sound of the spinning-wheel at which Omphale and hermaids worked.
The successful opera Samson &Delilah was first staged in Weimar in 1877. The work had originallybeen conceived as an oratorio, but proved too Wagnerian for French taste, sothat it was not to be seen in France until 1890, when there was a performanceat Rouen, followed seven months later by staging in Paris. The Bacchanale,which might at first seem an inappropriate indulgence even for a Philistine,provides a necessary divertissement in the biblical story.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonicensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt andOskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. The orchestra wasfirst conducted by the Prague conductor Frantisek Dyk and in the course of thepast fifty years of its existence has worked under the batons of severalprominent Czech and Slovak conductors. Ondrej Lenard was appointed itsconductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra hasrecently given a number of successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Westand East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and GreatBritain.
The American conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser was educated in New York,continuing his studies at Oberlin, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the NewEngland Conservatory and at Cologne State Conservatory. His period at the lastof these was the result of a Fulbright Scholarship, followed by an award fromthe West German Government and a first prize in the conducting competition heldin the Spanish town of Santiago.
During the last two decades, Gunzenhauser has enjoyed a varied anddistinguished career, winning popularity in particular for his work with theDelaware Symphony. an orchestra which he has recently conducted on an eight-concerttour of Portugal. His other engagements have included appearances withorchestras in Europe and America, from the RIAS Orchestra of Berlin, theHessischer Rundfunk Orchestra of Frankfurt and Dublin Radio Orchestra to theCharlotte Orchestra of North Carolina, and orchestras in Victoria, B.C.,Spokane and Knoxville.
For the Marco Polo label Stephen Gunzenhauser has recorded works byLiadov, Gli?¿re and Rubinstein, and for NAXOS Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5, Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Mozart's Violin Concertos Nos. 3 & 5.