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Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
La Tragédie de Salomé (1907) op. 50 [26.19]
Psaume 47 for soprano, chorus and orchestra op. 38 (1904) [26.06]
Sharon Sweet (sop), Jean-Louis Gil (organ), Jacques Prat (violin), Guy Commentale (violin)
Choeurs de Radio France/Michel Tranchant
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Marek Janowski
rec. Studio 3, Radio France, Oct 1988 (Salomé); Église Notre-Dame du Travail, Paris, May 1989 (Psalm 47)
WARNER APEX 2564 62764-2 [52:42]


This disc last appeared as the longer of two discs in an Erato Ultima twofer (8573 85636 2) and the performances and recordings still represent good value. If you are up for impressionist-romantic music of luxurious opulence this is for you. Schmitt, a life-long friend of Vaughan Williams, sounds nothing like his friend; more like RVW’s contemporary, Arnold Bax. To the Baxian saturated romance you can expect lashings of Ravel’s Daphnis and the dazzle and shimmer of the exoticism of Rimsky and Griffes. Schmitt does not pull his punches.

Despite his name Schmitt was French; born in Blamont, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France. He lived until the age of 88 and his longevity meant that he was still alive when his Second Symphony was premiered by Munch in 1958; the same year in which Vaughan Williams died.

He is likely to be best known if at all for these two works. They were splendidly recorded by EMI-Pathé-Marconi in the early 1970s using ORTF forces conducted by Jean Martinon. I still have that luxurious sturdy gatefold LP as well as the more pinched CD incarnation. The Tragédie is based not on Wilde but on a poem by Robert d'Humières and is dedicated to Stravinsky. In 1907 Stravinsky still a ‘wild boy’ both fêted and execrated by the musical establishment. There are reflections and predictive touches in the Salomé work, of Dukas (La Péri), Wagner, Bax (Spring Fire, Fand and the Second Symphony), Respighi (Vetrate di Chiesa), Holst (in The Planets - try tr2 2.47) and Debussy (La Mer). The reduced orchestra version was given in Paris on 9 November 1907 six months after Strauss's Salome had been aired there. The large orchestra version, given here, is heady, mood-rich and warmly dreamy. The distant vocalisation of the choir at tr.2 7.29 is very well handled - lovingly distanced. The oriental Muezzin curvature of the singing prompts thoughts of Delius's Hassan and the Delius Requiem and also put me in mind of two much later hyper-romantic works - Harty's Children of Lir and Enescu's Vox Maris. Janowski does not have quite the abandon exhorted by Martinon but this is still a well conceived and enthusiastic performance.

Schmitt pulls out all the stops for the single movement Psalm. This shouts in colossal exultation with impassioned oaken tones from the massed French radio choirs blazingly done and with a nod towards the towering tones of Berlioz's choral monuments. Other works may leap to mind including the Hanson Lament for Beowulf cantata as well as Janáček’s Glagolytic Mass. It sounds big - none of the chamber choir approach. While it is weakened somewhat by a proneness to rum-ti-tum rhythms in the outer sections, recalling his friend Vaughan Williams, it is also decidedly Rimskian and leans on the example of Borodin and the Polovtsian Dances. Although in one movement, it is a triptych with the Glory to the Lord and God has ascended framing He has chosen the beauty of Jacob. It’s a pity that the whole of this noble work is in a single 26 minute track.

The solo violinists are Prat in Salomé and Commentale in the Psaume. Commentale is given more to do and his touchingly febrile role in the central panel is nicely balanced up with his co-singer, the toweringly dramatic and operatic-toned Sharon Sweet.

For Psaume 47 the booklet gives us the sung text in both French and English translation. Only the French was given in the Ultima set. The notes are by Marc Vignal.

Rob Barnett





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