The great popular success of his 3rd Symphony "with organ" has apparently overshadow Saint Saens' earlier symphonic efforts, which are seldom played or recorded - and it is really a pity. Granted, they are youthful works - very youthful even, in the case of the unnumbered A-major Symphony from 1850, composed when Saint Saens was 15. With the first numbered, opus 2, he was 18, the second unnumbered one, "Urbs Roma" (City of Rome), 22, and # 2 op 55, 24 (1859).
Granted, all these works betray the influence of Beethoven, Mendelssohn (the finale of the A major is striking) and Schumann (inasmuch as Schumann betrays in his Symphonies the influence of Beethoven - but who didn't in those years?). And so what? If you enjoy the Symphonies of Beethoven, Schumann and Mendelssohn, and even more if you are an explorer of the second or third-tier Romantic composers like, say, Raff or Berwald, if you enjoy the youthful Symphony of Bizet or those of Gounod, Saint-Saens' will offer many rewards. His symphonies are wonderfully crafted, they offer moments of uplifting heroism, of intense drama, of lithe and graceful dance spirit, of moving pathos that never turns into the sentimental or cloying.
Do my ears deceive me in hearing a Tchaikovsky likeness in the famous 3rd Symphony with organ, composed 27 years after the previous one, in 1881 (Saint Saens was 55 then)? I'm not talking about imitation or derivation. Styles evolve along parallel and sometimes joining lines. I don't know why the organ is singled out in the Symphony. It is certainly not a "Symphony concertante FOR organ and orchestra", the organ is treated as an orchestral instrument (as the four-hand piano) and comes out soloistically only very rarely. Anyway, what a fine composition (if you like Tchaikovsky, that is).
I won't attempt a judgment on the interpretive merits of these recordings, as they are, for the early Symphonies, my first acquaintance with them. I have the feeling that the finale of the A-major could have been swifter and lighter - more Mendelssohnian, that is. As for the "Organ" Symphony, it is not a composition for which I have the score and have done comparative listening. But suffice to say that these recordings have been recognized classics since their first LP release (they were recorded between 1972 and 75), that Martinon was a fine conductor who knew how to elicit both punch and grace from an orchestra. And anyway, sometimes it is just good to enjoy the music, all considerations of interpretation aside. For the record, Bernard Gavoty, the organ player, was in those days, under the name of Clarendon, one of the most famous music critics of the French press, writing for the daily Le Figaro.