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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
NAXOS 8.570828 [61:02]
Experience Classicsonline

I assume we're shaping up to a budget price Schmidt symphony cycle to try to rival the long established Järvi set on Chandos CHAN9568 (4). If so this makes for a fine start. Why go for broke with the Fourth when you can work up to it slowly, through the chronological ranks as it were.

The First was written when the composer was in his early twenties. Confidence; that's the word that best sums up what we can hear coursing throughout it. And if some of the influences are probably too obvious for words it doesn't negate the sheer compositional craft, the sure orchestrational effect that Schmidt wrought with this work completed almost as a new century dawned. It really is a striking achievement, albeit one that remains limited by an ultimate lack of sheer memorability and consistency.

Still, try the opening if you suspect a mini-me Brucknerian effusion. What you get instead is a straight-in-there vitality, a verveful, young man about town swagger. True, ears attuned to the altogether different kind of swagger enshrined in Mastersingers and Tannhäuser will find what they seek; there's no question Schmidt poached some ceremonial Wagneriana along the way. But again, there's felicitous wind detail and a very effective slow movement to contend with - one that is assuredly moving strongly in Bruckner's orbit, with the horn harmonies espousing the creed of Late Romanticism at every tautening and tensing of the lip.

Schmidt was also good at proportion. This is a very proportionate symphony, very democratically apportioned. The Scherzo takes as much time as the slow movement and its elegance is matched by balletic strengths; I like the quasi-diaphanous string sound cultivated by Sinaisky here. For the finale we have rather more Wagnerian admixture but also a somewhat old hat contrapuntal and fugal section that attests to that old bugbear, the symphonic finale problem. Fortunately Schmidt's fugal interpolations manage to remain playful and not academic. Still, much better is the emergent chorale that ends the work in a paean of nobility. Someone should have red-lined the fugal pretensions for Schmidt, and insisted he majored on the Chorale and the finale would have been that much stronger.

The three excerpts from his Op.2 opera Notre Dame complete the brew. The Introduction is a charmer, whilst the Interlude is a light goulash confection and the Carnival breezy but just a bit too cosmopolitan for its own good. This coupling is in fact the same as that on Marco Polo 8.223119 where Halász and the Budapest Symphony blew hotter and colder in the Symphony than this more sensitively delineated newcomer. The Detroit Chandos performance is a truly fine one, more sumptuously recorded than this Naxos. There are other performances including those in out-of-the-way sets. I'm an admirer of the tremendous, late Slovak conductor (and composer) Ľudovít Rajter's cycle in general, and the conductor in particular, though the Bratislava Radio (Opus 9350 1851-4) is no match sonically for the Järvi or this Naxos.

But for a budget single recommendation, no concerns at all with this one. This youthful, testosterone filled, sap-rising symphony is in safe hands.

Jonathan Woolf  

see also review by Bob Briggs


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