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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Franz Schmidt - Symphonies (Neeme Järvi)


Composer: Franz Schmidt

  1. Symphony No. 1 in E major: 1. Sehr langsam - Sehr lebhaft
  2. Symphony No. 1 in E major: 2. Langsam
  3. Symphony No. 1 in E major: 3. Schnell und leicht
  4. Symphony No. 1 in E major: 4. Lebhaft, doch nicht zu schnell
  1. Symphony No. 2 in E flat major: 1. Lebhaft
  2. Symphony No. 2 in E flat major: 2. Allegretto con variazioni
  3. Symphony No. 2 in E flat major: 3. Finale. Langsam
  1. Symphony No. 3 in A major: 1. Allegro molto moderato
  2. Symphony No. 3 in A major: 2. Adagio
  3. Symphony No. 3 in A major: 3. Scherzo. Allegro vivace
  4. Symphony No. 3 in A major: 4. Lento - Allegro vivace
  1. Symphony No. 4 in C major: 1. Allegro molto moderato
  2. Symphony No. 4 in C major: 2. Adagio
  3. Symphony No. 4 in C major: 3. Molto vivace
  4. Symphony No. 4 in C major: 4. Tempo primo un poco sostenuto

Detroit Symphony Orchestra (CD1, CD4)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CD2, CD3)
Neeme Järvi, conductor

Date: 1989 (CD2), 1991 (CD3), 1994 (CD1), 1996 (CD4)
Label: Chandos



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.

Schmidt entered 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.

A connoisseur’s choice for the Schmidt symphonies. The only one currently available but would be difficult to top anyway.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International


Franz Schmidt (22 December 1874 – 11 February 1939) was an Austrian composer, cellist and pianist. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Robert Fuchs, Ferdinand Hellmesberger and Anton Bruckner. Schmidt was also a brilliant pianist. As a composer, Schmidt was slow to develop, but his reputation, at least in Austria, saw a steady growth from the late 1890s until his death in 1939. In his music, Schmidt continued to develop the Viennese classic-romantic traditions he inherited from Schubert, Brahms and his own master, Bruckner.


Neeme Järvi (born June 7, 1937 in Tallinn) is an Estonian conductor. He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory under Yevgeny Mravinsky and Nikolai Rabinovich, among others. He made over 400 recordings for labels such as BIS, Chandos and Deutsche Grammophon and best known for his interpretations of Romantic and 20th century classical music. In 1982, he became the principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, and held the post for 22 years, the longest-serving principal conductor in the orchestra's history.


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  4. Thank you very much for Chandos!!!!