I don't know if I can answer your question in terms of sonic but I have gone through a number of versions of this and the ones I go back to consistently are
1)with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra with E. Power Biggs CD 2) Georges Pretre with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, and Maurice Durufle LP and finally one I keep being undecided over 3) Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal with Peter Hurford CD.
This is not counting of course the Much/BSO which you already mentioned. Hope this helps
There are many who like the Fremeaux/City of Birmingham Orchestra release on EMI (re-released on vinyl and CD, I believe, by Cisco). Very lush acoustic. Another well-recorded version is with the Dallas Symphony and Jean Guillou on Dorian, with a good pairing of the Jongen Symphonie Concertante (which is the main reason to buy that recording, in my view). The old Telarc recording with Michael Murray/Ormandy conducting is sonically spectacular (the vinyl was famous for causing cartridges of the time to mistrack), but I really think the performance in the second half of the piece is so slow and unexciting as to be unlistenable. My favorite overall is with Guillou and the SFO (DeWaart conducting) on Phillips, not so much for the quality of the sonics overall (they're OK, though a little "thick" sounding, not really as transparent as others) as for the fact that Guillou used the 32 foot stops more than most organists do in this performance--far more than he did on the Dorian recording, in fact--so you get full 16Hz notes in the second movement (or the second half of the first movement, depending on how you look at it). This one apparently has become available again on CD, worth looking for, and far better than the DeWaart recording with Chorzempa that came out on PentaTone SACD, IMHO.
Mine is the San Franciso with DeWaart also; it has a lively pace and the organ is spectacular.
Mercury has also re-issued their 1957 "Living Presence" recording with Marcel Dupre on the organ and Paul Paray conducting the Detroit Symphony. The recording has very clean sound, and Dupre is one of the masters of the French organ literature. The catalog number is 432719-2.
Thank you all, appreciate it. Looks like I'll be getting more than one as well as the Jongen Symphonie Concertante which I don't have.
I'll point out, as I have elsewhere, that the Dorian disc is an audiophile's delight, because it was recorded in the Meyerson Hall in Dallas in two different acoustics. For the Jongen, since the organ is featured as a solo instrument, the hall acoustics were set to be more reverberant; for the Saint Saens, where the organ is meant to be part of the orchestra, a more normal concert setting of the acoustics was used (for those of you who are unaware, the Meyerson hall has adjustable panels in it which can change the acoustics of the hall itself). A good system will easily show the differences. In the performance, Guillou doesn't use the 32 foot stops that much in the Saint Saens as he does on the DeWaart recording, but he sure does on the Jongen--if you have subs prepare to be shaken!
I have eight versions of this favorite warhorse and sonic blockbuster, and I'm surprised no one has mentioned one of the best, somewhat more recent versions, which has excellent sound: it's the SECOND Telarc version, also with Michael Murray as organist, with Christian Badea conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded 1990-91. (The first Telarc version, with Murray, Ormandy, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, was recorded back in the early days of digital in Feb. 1980.)
Another estimable version not mentioned here so far is the one recorded circa 1976 on DG with Gaston Litaize, organist, and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. By the way, I have on hand all three remasterings for CD that RCA has issued of the famous old Zamkochian/Munch/Boston SO version of 1959. These are the first CD issue of 1987, the "Living Stereo" remastering of 1993, and the DSD/SACD/hybrid remastering of 2004. I'm listening in two-channel only, but there is no question that the SACD hybrid of 2004 is the best-sounding of these three.
The BSO/Munch sacd is not bad sonically, there are plenty of classical cds that sound worse. I can't tolerate the harshness in classical as much as other genres for some reason. I stopped buying classical cds for an entire decade and I just started building up my collection again last year so I have some catching up to do. Cbrentc, thanks for the link. So Texasdave, which telarc version do you prefer?
Having both of the Telarc versions, I feel the more recent one was preferable sonically and interpretively. My only quibble with the second version is that the organ was recorded in a different venue than the orchestra (the intent was to use an organ which was the same as the one Saint Saens wrote the piece for), and while the editing was done very well I still think you lose some spontenaity in playing by recording the parts in separate sessions.
I also prefer the second (later) Telarc version. In theory the idea of recording the organ separately--in a different time and place--sounds awful--certainly a turn-off to purists. But pragmatically I find that when carefully done it has delivered good results in several recordings made this way (e.g., the fine Litaize/Barenboim/Chicago version on DG). I might also add that, while I like the Guillou/Mata/Dallas SO version on Dorian of the Jongen very much and recommend it, I can't recommend this version of the Saint-Saens. The fiddling with the adjustable acoustics of the Meyerson (where I regularly attend Dallas SO concerts, by the way) delivers disappointing organ-pickup results in the Saint-Saens, to my ears (but not in the Jongen, where the organ sounds grand). Incidentally, there's another fine (and fine-sounding) recording of the Jongen, by Murray on Telarc. Happy listening.