Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 3 in A. Chaconne in d
Vassily Sinaisky, cond; Malmö SO
NAXOS 8.572119 (78:36)
I put Vassily Sinaisky’s Naxos recording of Schmidt’s Second Symphony on last year’s Want List, and if I don’t do the same for the Third this year, it is because I don’t believe this work is quite as strong. Sinaisky, however, makes an extremely persuasive case for it.
Franz Schmidt (1874–1939) is more truly than Mahler the end of the Austro-German symphonic tradition
that began with Haydn. Although Schmidt’s four symphonies do not have the enormous individuality and musical personality of Mahler’s, they are rich, beautiful works that deserve far more exposure than they receive outside of Austria (where they have always held a place in the repertoire). They are fiendishly difficult to play and to conduct. The problems that they present to the conductor are many and are quite specific. Balances must be carefully attended to, because the scoring is often thick and anything but a judicious ear will find the thematic material buried. They demand both a long, lyrical line and incisive rhythms. Shortchange the former, and the tunes don’t hold their shape. Shortchange the latter, and the music sags.
Sinaisky gets it all. He clearly loves the music, and he seems remarkably inside the music for someone who doesn’t come from that Viennese tradition. There is a fair amount of repetition in this work, and unless you vary material when it reappears, the listener’s mind will wander. There is no chance of that here. Everything—dynamic gradation, phrase-shaping, building of tension followed by release—it is all perfectly judged. The two strongest Schmidt symphonies are Nos. 2 and 4. They both have a wealth of melodic invention that stays long in the memory after you’ve heard them. The Fourth is, in my view, a true masterpiece—a tragic work written as a requiem for the composer’s daughter. The First is the weakest: quite derivative of Strauss, and lacking any strong profile of its own. The Third may not be quite at the level of Nos. 2 and 4, but the fervor and cohesion of this performance serves to raise its stature in the Schmidt canon.
There was a time in my life, after hearing an old monaural recording (on the Epic label, I believe) of Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony conducted by Rudolf Moralt, that I searched in vain for any recording of any of the other three symphonies. Then Zubin Mehta recorded the Fourth, brilliantly (I wish he had turned his hand to the others), and interest slowly gathered momentum. Neeme Järvi did a fine cycle (half with Chicago and half with Detroit) in the late 1980s and early 90s, and today I own 27 recordings of Schmidt symphonies, a situation that allows us to be choosy. Järvi’s recording of the Third strikes me as rushed a bit, but it is exciting. My favorite until now was Fabio Luisi’s (MDR Edition 10). That is a strong enough recording that if you own it, it would be hard to justify replacing it with this unless you have developed a passion for Schmidt and would appreciate this even stronger performance. For anyone who lacks the Third Symphony, and who enjoys late-Romantic music (I cannot imagine someone responding to Strauss tone poems and not enjoying this), this would be the one to go for.
The disc is filled out very nicely by Schmidt’s own orchestration of an organ chaconne that he wrote, and I think this is the orchestral version’s first recording. It is a big work—almost half an hour—and it is colorful and thrilling. Good notes, splendid sound, and committed playing at a high level by the Malmö forces round out this enthusiastically recommended disc.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in A major by Franz Schmidt
Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1927-1928; Austria
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