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Franz SCHMIDT (1874-1939)
Symphony No.1 in E (1896/1899) [45:31]
Orchestral excerpts from the opera Notre Dame, op.2 (1904): Introduction, Interlude and Carnival Music [15:21]
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Vassily Sinaisky
rec. 22-23 (Notre Dame), 27-30 (Symphony) August 2007, Malmö Concert Hall, Sweden. DDD
NAXOS 8.570828 [61:02]
Experience Classicsonline

Franz Schmidt was one of the last great Romantic symphonists. He was a cellist and played in the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra - and thus the Vienna Philharmonic - under Richter and Fuchs. When Mahler became conductor and director he favoured Schmidt the cellist and had him play the solos despite not being the principal of the section. Schmidt left the orchestra in 1911 and it is from this time that his music blossomed and grew - three more symphonies, two works for piano and orchestra, a piano quartet and two piano quintets for the unusual combination of clarinet and piano quartet (all written for Paul Wittgenstein) as well as a second opera, a complete (more or less) setting of the Book of Revelation, Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (The Book with Seven Seals) and much music for organ.

The second (1911/1913), third (1928) and fourth (1932/1933) Symphonies are towering masterpieces of symphonic literature and it’s a shame that only the fourth gets any kind of regular airing these days, and thus overshadows the others. This first Symphony is very earnest, it does all the right things, in the right order but it cannot hold a candle to the rest of the set. It’s much more classical than the others, is laid out in the usual four movements, and is competently orchestrated but there’s really nothing to prepare one for what was to come. It’s a lovely, very tuneful, piece and it engages the attention but there’s really insufficient interest to sustain 45 minutes of music. This is a very fine performance and I can hardly wait for the same performers to give us the other symphonies - they should be well worth hearing.

The three excerpts from Schmidt’s early opera Notre Dame are full of good things, not least the Hungarian-influenced Intermezzo - Schmidt was born in Pressburg which, at that time, was in Hungary, of Hungarian and German descent - but quite what this piece is doing in this very French story is beyond me. It does make a good, separate, concert-piece, not least because it could have been written in Hollywood 25 years later!

Perhaps I am being a little harsh about this music but it isn’t the best that Schmidt wrote and with a knowledge of what came later it is a let-down - a kind of throwback to an earlier era. Don’t let this put you off investigating the music though, for it is well worth hearing and it is the start of something very special in early 20th century composition.

Performances and recorded sound cannot be faulted and the notes by Adam Binks are well worth reading. Flawed music, perhaps, from a master who was soon to spread his wings and take compositional flight.

Bob Briggs  


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