Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Florent Schmitt - Symphony No. 2; Rêves; Danse d'Abisag; Habeyssée (Leif Segerstam)


Composer: Florent Schmitt
  1. Danse d'Abisag, Op. 75
  2. Habeyssée, suite for violin & orchestra, Op. 110
  3. Rêves, Op. 65
  4. Symphony No. 2, Op. 137: I. Assez animé
  5. Symphony No. 2, Op. 137: II. Lent - sans excès
  6. Symphony No. 2, Op. 137: III. Animé

Hannele Segerstam, violin (2)
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz
Leif Segerstam, conductor

Date: 1994
Label: Marco Polo



Eric Blom was unfortunately not far off the mark when, 40 years ago, he wrote of Florent Schmitt in Grove V, of which he was Editor, that ''it may be doubted whether much of his music will be often revived except by way of curiosity'': the neglect and ignorance of his work, certainly in this country, is artistically indefensible. Blom lists his positive qualities: ''vigour, eloquence, passion, understanding of various media''. Those who have luxuriated in the voluptuous sonorities of La tragedie de Salome (9/93), Dionysiaques (8/88) or Salammbo (6/94)—which was one of my Critics' Choice recommendations in December—will welcome this appearance of four more works (none of which I have previously encountered on disc) from this orchestra, who enriched the catalogue with a Schmitt disc reviewed in 10/86. Once again the composer is shown as a virtuoso of orchestral scoring, in the class of a Ravel or Respighi; and in the face of his gorgeous, and often original, colours Blom's comment that his orchestration is ''masterly if at times too lavish'' seems unduly puritanical.

The earliest work here, Reves, takes its inspiration from Leon-Paul Fargue, a poet obsessed with dreams, and vividly illustrates ''mystery chimes on the threshold of feverish night''. La danse d'Abisag, like his Tragedie de Salome of 20 years earlier, is an exotic choreographically-based tone-poem on a Biblical subject. It depicts the sinuous dance of the young Shunamite virgin—at first slow and hesitant—before the aged King David, and her increasingly strenuous though finally unavailing efforts to rouse him. Schmitt shows a lighter touch and some humour in the attractive suite for violin and orchestra which is said to be ''inspired by an Islamic legend'', though the suggestion has also been made that its title is simply the French pronunciation of ''ABC''. (This is not, perhaps, quite so far-fetched as it sounds, since another Schmitt orchestral piece is teasingly entitled Cancunik, i.e. Sens unique.) The Symphony—labelled No. 2 to distinguish it from the Symphonie concertante for piano and orchestra—was premiered at the Strasbourg Festival and demonstrated that at the age of 87 the composer had lost absolutely nothing of his artistic energy and technical wizardry: it was given a standing ovation—and no wonder! The slow movement in particular has a noble beauty.

Leif Segerstam and the orchestra acquit themselves throughout with distinction; and though these recordings mostly date from 1987 and 1988 the quality is excellent. I give this disc a cordial recommendation and make a mental note of its likely inclusion in this year's award nominations.

-- Lionel Salter, Gramophone

More reviews:


Florent Schmitt (28 September 1870 – 17 August 1958) was a French composer. He was part of the group known as Les Apaches. At the age of 19 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied with Gabriel Fauré, Jules Massenet, Théodore Dubois, and Albert Lavignac. Schmitt wrote 138 works with opus numbers. His most famous pieces are La tragédie de Salome and Psaume XLVII (Psalm 47). His own style, recognizably impressionistic, owed something to the example of Debussy, though it had distinct traces of Wagner and Richard Strauss also.


Leif Segerstam (born 2 March 1944 in Vaasa, Ostrobothnia, Finland) is a Finnish conductor, composer, violinist, violist and pianist, especially known for his 309 symphonies, along with his other works in his extensive œuvre. Segerstam has conducted in a variety of orchestras since 1963, mostly American, Australian and European orchestras. He is widely known through his recorded discography, which includes the complete symphonies of Blomdahl, Brahms, Mahler, Nielsen, and Sibelius, as well as many works by contemporary composer.


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