SCHMITT: Psalm 47 “Gloire du Seigneur,” Op. 38; La Tragedie de Salome – Andrea Guiot, soprano/Gaston Litaize, organ/French National Radio Orchestra and Chorus/Jean Martinon
HDTT HDCD191, 54:39 (also available as Gold CD-R, 96K/24bit DVD-R, HQCD CD, and both 96K/24 & 192K/24 FLAC downloads – www.highdeftapetransfers.com) ****:
Transferred directly from an out-of-print 1972 EMI LP, this restoration by the HDTT Weiss process provides two dynamic scores by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958), a composer of whom Henri Dutilleux wrote, “gave back to the French school certain notions of grandeur.” Schmitt harbored decidedly German values, and the music of Wagner and Richard Strauss infiltrates his scoring, no less than his modal and contrapuntal syntax inherited from training with Faure. The choral-orchestral Psalm 47 (1904) consistently earns the epithet as Schmitt’s first “masterpiece.” Though several of Schmitt’s works anticipate Stravinsky of The Rite of Spring, Psalm 47 basks in a relatively conservative post-Debussy haze, with violin solo episodes and an extended soprano solo with violin, horn, harp, chorus, and soft tympani. Psalm 47 itself is an ecstatic Laudate, a consummate exaltation of God’s ascension to glory over all things. Jean Martinon (1910-1976) elicits the illuminated gloss of the score, its constantly rising scales and chromatic harmonies after Wagner’s Tristan, to which the organ and later thundering battery section sprinkles touches from Roussel, Ravel, and Faure. The climax resonates with aspects of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony and Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Schmitt having fused God’s glory to Valhalla. Until the publication of Honegger’s King David, this powerful score reigned in the French catalogue as a supreme epic for mixed forces, a kind of Cecil B. de Mille canvas in sumptuous, even gaudy colors, French Scriabin.
The Tragedy of Salome originated as a ballet score (1907), but Schmitt revised it as a symphonic poem in 1910. The combination of exoticism and pre-Stravinsky orchestration emerge quickly, especially in the coloring of the English horn. In its dreamy Old Testament sequences, the scoring resembles Debussy’s Sirenes and color elements from Daphnis et Chloe. The Biblical setting and the various temptations to John the Baptist become evident through the marked suggestiveness of Schmitt’s writing, which consistently blends he voluptuous with the grandiose. The latter half of the poem might be mistaken for discards from La Mer, though the lines from woodwinds and dark strings has more in common with Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. The ferocious, ostentatious climax–likely the beheading of John and his head mounted on a silver salver–calls for an audiophile’s orgy of sound in the full orchestra, answered by a wordless female chorus from the wilderness, a kind of Hollywood notion of Bible-story evocation. Again, Martinon’s capacity to control monumental forces and spectacular effects manifests itself on every page, a virtuosic tour de force as well for recording engineer Paul Vavasseur of the original EMI team.
— Gary Lemco