With Chandos celebrating its first thirty years it seemed opportune
to review some of their longer established and perhaps overlooked
contributions. This is one. It dates from a five year period when
Järvi was tearing between the USA and Glasgow. His longstanding
connection with the SNO (now the RSNO) was beginning to loosen
as the American orchestras laid an even greater claim to his time.
This set of four
extravagantly filled discs – one symphony per CD - is evidence
of that transition. It also provides evidence of an overpowering
confidence in the translation of these sprawlingly late-romantic
works into the hands of two of America’s greatest orchestras.
About the Chicago
there could have been little doubt but there might have been
some uncertainty about Detroit. Their sumptuous excellence,
vernal energy and weightiness of tone are attested to by their
way with Schmidt’s First Symphony. This is a work in
which a nervy current pulses through with reminiscences of Schumann
and Bruckner and occasionally something of his contemporary
Elgar. It is however a very personal synthesis and intensely
attractive too. Do not expect anything terribly Mahlerian. While
I would quibble about his occasionally leaden fugal obsessions
in the finale of the First Symphony – it sometimes recalls a
Stokowski Bach transcription - this is grand stuff from a young
composer of 22.
As for the Fourth
Symphony it is the work of a sixty-year old composer. Its
long-lined invocatory trumpet introduction seems to carry an
unresolvable burden of melancholy, confidence and disillusion.
It recurs. The sweetness of this theme and its faintly dissonant
acerbic quality give it an intense identity which once heard
cannot be shaken off. By Schmidt’s own admission the Adagio
which is ushered in by an elegiac cello solo spun, paced and
shaped by Marcy Chanteaux. It speaks as a requiem for his daughter,
Emma who died in 1932. There is a sense of sorrowing and of
a tragic crumbling away in the finale. Is it a lament for his
own passing life or for the descent into barbarism on which
the German-speaking peoples teetered on the edge in 1934. In
any event the smoothly undulant and moving trumpet theme from
the first bars of the opening return. Not all is lost - a most
beautiful and lofty theme borne up by the strings, underpinned
by a harp glitter and over-pinned by the horns sings out in
tirelessly reflective eloquence. Much of this has the quality
of a soliloquy on which we eavesdrop.
The Chicagoans need
little recommendation. Their sound is glorious and Chandos advocate
it to us with all its damask lustre and density without rendering
it opaque. In the Second Symphony there is a lot going
on in that first movement which by the way is the one I would
commend to someone who has never heard Schmidt before. The brass
playing – the composer-specified eight horns, four trumpets
- is of legendary splendour from 4.45 onwards in both the first
and last movements. I would only take issue with Järvi over
the hurried pulse he imparts to the rippling opening figure.
There are surely parallels here with a contemporary work – also
a Second Symphony – that of Elgar. It has that same nobilmente
spirit. For me this brings back vividly my first experience
of Schmidt when as a student all of almost forty years ago in
a Bristol B&B I heard a BBC broadcast of an Austrian radio
tape. I was won over immediately. It was all the more disappointing
that when I eventually found a rare LP (Classical Excellence
CE11044) of the work the sound was so impenetrably matte and
the reading so stodgy. It was played by the Austrian Radio Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Milan Horvat. That’s a recording that
has not made it to CD and this is not to be lamented.
the Third Symphony in the Schubert Centenary Competition
for the best new symphony composed ‘in the spirit of Schubert’.
This allowed plenty of wriggle room. Schmidt’s luminously scored
work was identified as the best Austrian entry. Järvi makes
the work sing and it does so in no parodic way so far as Schubert
is concerned. The second movement also sings but knowingly and
it is freighted with a slowly unfurling regret. This contrasts
with the zest of the skipping semi-Brucknerian Scherzo.
These were first
issued separately complete with couplings: 1. + Strauss Intermezzo
CHAN 9357; 2. CHAN 8779; 3 + Hindemith Concerto for Orchestra
CHAN 9000; 4 + Strauss Symphonic Fragments CHAN 9506.
Apart from the Fourth Symphony these have been deleted as CDs
but are still available as MP3 or WMA downloads.
There is no other
complete set currently available although with some effort you
may be able to track down the individual Querstand CDs of the
2006-7 MDR performances conducted by Fabio Luisi. I have not heard
them – but am trying to access them for review. You may also pick
up Ludovit Rajter’s 1986-87 Opus set (9350 1851-4) in which he
conducted the Bratislava orchestra. I have heard these and they
are well done but the recording and the orchestra are not in the
same league as the Chandos orchestras. The Second Symphony in
the hands of Mitropoulos on Music
& Arts is well worth hearing in good 1950s radio sound.
Much the same can be said of Martin
Sieghart’s Chesky CD of the Fourth. There’s also another -
and easier to find Fourth – this time from Franz Welser-Möst.
It’s on EMI Classics with Hans Bauer’s Hussarenlied Variations
– a very generously timed disc. Welser-Möst’s Das
Buch Mit Sieben Siegeln is compromised by his tenor but
no blemishes on his Fourth Symphony. I should also not forget
Zubin Mehta’s Decca recording of the Fourth (London-Decca 440
615). It’s the one by which many listeners will have come to know
that work and to hear of Schmidt. Readers whose interest dates
back to the 1950s may well have first encountered Schmidt through
the Rudolf Moralt recording of the Fourth Symphony. It’s now available
as a Naxos
download on (9.80262).
Notes by Michael
Fleming, Matthew Rye and Peter Franklin from the Chandos individual
CDs are reproduced in the booklet.
choice for the Schmidt symphonies. The only one currently available
but would be difficult to top anyway.