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Thomas SCHMIDT-KOWALSKI (b.1949)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor Op. 67 (2000) [34.35]
Cello Concerto in A minor Op. 84 (2002) [34.34]
Nikolai Schneider (cello)
SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslauten/Manfred Neuman
rec. 18-21 Nov, 16-18 Dec 2002, SWR Studio, Kaiserslauten
NAXOS 8.551212 [69.09]


Many years ago, perhaps about 1980, the BBC used to allow that wildly imaginative producer/composer Robert Simpson an occasional programme called 'The Innocent Ear'. Essentially Mr Simpson would play radio tapes from various sources without announcing who wrote the piece. Listeners then had no choice other than to leave their luggage of prejudices and enthusiasms behind. These two substantial works by a 55 year old German composer might well have caused a stir had they been played in that series.

We are told that Schmidt-Kowalski's music is well regarded in his region in Germany and I am not surprised. These two works are written in a style that would have them fitting very congruously into Sterling's German romantics series alongside such 19th century luminaries as Wetz, Draesecke and the rest.

First the Symphony No. 3. This is music unlike the lighter-weight Huber (in Sterling’s ‘Swiss Romantics’ series) yet without the neurosis of Mahler. It conveys a certain generosity of time and spirit. In the first movement, a satisfying Pfitzner-Bruckner-like adagio, memorable moments include the background surge of the horns. This is almost Tchaikovskian (3.00). It marries well with the tender ‘tip and turn’ of the strings and the very exposed trumpet solo at 5.43. The movement ends on an imperiously defiant high note for trumpet - most unusual. The scherzo has the skip and dramatic character of the scherzo of Dvořák 6. The finale is a peaceful and melodically warm-rooted. It at first sings in auburn tones but at 7.05 this gives way to brazen tragic-heroism further exalted by the blaze of the brass choir. This tawny sound is typical of the brass in the recent Barenboim-Staatskappelle Schumann set (Warners).


The Cello Concerto is a rounded blend of Schumann and Saint-Saëns with a hint of Bruckner along the way. The work yearns and sings in full flow with the solo instrument sincere, needy and suave. The movement's ending strikes the only momentarily false note sounding jocular and out of place. The second movement, adagio mosso, is sunnily soulful - somewhere in the region between the Delius and the Schumann concertos. The third has an Elgarian cantilena - trudging and businesslike. Majesty is not far away and amongst the nice moments is the transition from the declamatory to the intimate as at 1.03 in the finale. There is also a passage of sunlight-bathed birdsong evocation which is strongly memorable from 10.00 onwards.

My version was from German Naxos and had notes only in German.

I wish Schmidt-Kowalski well and would like to hear more of his music. In the heterogeneous classical music catalogue the world needs sincere music like this. It speaks to us in language that elides the 20th century's novelties and keeps in touch with the classical-romantic 'centre' asserted by Schumann and Dvořák. The ‘language’ consistent across both works. Try these on your friends.

Rob Barnett


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