Widor: Organ Symphonies Opp. 42, 3 & 69 / Solyom, Schmitt, Bamberger Symphoniker

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WIDOR Symphony No. 3 for Organ and Orchestra, op. 69. 1 Symphony No. 7 for Organ Solo Stefan Solyom (org); 1 Christain Schmitt, cond; 1 Bamberg SO CPO 777 678-2 (73:04)


Among my very first reviews for this magazine was one in 33:6 of a CPO release of Widor’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, op. 42bis, and the Sinfonia Sacra for Organ and Orchestra, op. 81, performed by the same musicians as on this present release. I gave the previous disc an enthusiastic recommendation, and so it is a delight to give its worthy successor almost as hearty a welcome.


The Symphony No. 3, op. 69, is Widor’s first completely original work for organ and orchestra; the op. 42bis from 1882 was a pastiche created by combining rearranged versions of the outer movements of the Organ Symphony No. 6, op. 42/2, with a slow movement from the Organ Symphony No. 2, op. 13/2. In construction, the Third Symphony hews very closely to its explicit model, the Symphony No. 3 of Widor’s friend Camille Saint-Saëns. As with the Saint-Saëns it is laid out in four movements, with the first two and last two joined together without pause to form two larger movements, and with the organ part integrated into the larger orchestral fabric rather than being given prominence as a vehicle for a virtuoso soloist. Melodically the work also shows its kinship to Saint-Saëns, though there are occasional nods in the direction of César Franck and even early Wagner. The dramatic first movement, dominated by a syncopated motif in a 6/8, is succeeded by a lush Andante with a broadly flowing, noble melody. The energetic scherzo, capped by the one extended organ solo in the work, segues into a stately finale that ultimately brings the work to an unabashedly triumphant conclusion. The booklet notes mention that there have been only a handful of performances of this work since the composer’s death; let’s hope that recordings such as this change that situation, for this piece fully deserves to be programmed as often as the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. It is a cause for wonder that to date those two works have not been teamed up on a compact disc; indeed, one wonders why that was not done here.


The booklet notes do not indicate why the Organ Symphony No. 7, op. 42/3, was chosen to fill out this disc, rather than any other one of Widor’s 10 works in that mode, or else the Symphonie Antique , op. 83, for choir, organist, and orchestra; presumably it is a favorite of the organist, Stefan Solyom. Cast in six movements, it opens with a Moderato that is built upon a martial, fanfare-like motif. The next movement is a gentle Chorale, the theme of which has alternating duplet and triplet units in the course of its development. An ensuing Andante-Allegro begins with a graceful, elegant dance theme that gives way to a faster, more agitated section before making its return. Next, an Allegro ma non troppo follows, in which a theme consisting of sustained whole notes is sounded over ever-changing rippling configurations in the accompaniment. The succeeding Lento symmetrically returns the piece to the subdued mood of the second movement chorale, followed by a finale with a dense, stormy opening and an edgy, fidgety main theme in a duple meter that brings the work full-circle to its opening.


In my initial paragraph I said that I would give this release “almost as hearty a welcome” as its predecessor. The qualifier is not due to the caliber of this performance, the recorded sound, or the detailed booklet notes, all of which are to the same excellent standard as the previous release. It is rather because this time there is a formidable competitor; the op. 69 has a recording on Chandos with Ian Tracey, Yan-Pascal Tortelier, and the BBC Philharmonic that I would rate even more highly due to its more spacious recorded sound. That disc has as fillers the Symphony No. 2 for Organ and Orchestra of Félix-Alexandre Guilmant and a chorale by Franck. Since the Guilmant is a much more scarce item, and there are several alternative recordings of the organ Symphony No. 7—on the Festivo, MDG, Motette, Skarbao, and Solstice labels, all from complete sets of the organ symphonies (the Skarbao cycle being still in progress)—my advice would be to acquire the Chandos release and whichever one of these recordings of the organ symphony suits your fancy. But if you have the funds and inclination to have both recordings of the op. 69, or if Guilmant is not to your taste, then by all means acquire this as well.


FANFARE: James A. Altena


Product Description:


  • Catalog Number: 777678-2


  • UPC: 761203767823


  • Label: CPO


  • Composer: Charles-Marie Widor


  • Conductor: Stefan Solyom


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bamberg Symphony Orchestra


  • Performer: Christian Schmitt