The note booklet writer makes an interesting comparison between the wit, subtleties and laconic means of what we usually think of as French music, and a contrary compositional force more interested in the monumental, impulsive and exotic. His examples are Berlioz, Roussel, Varese, some of Messiaen, and of course Schmitt.
Take the opening work here as an example. Schmitt (who was born close to Alsace-Lorraine, explaining his German name) has not penned a pious liturgical work in his Psaume XLVII – not at all. In fact, he saw it as a paean of savage triumph sung by exotic Middle Eastern peoples. The orientalism in the music is similar to that of other French composers, but the barbaric rhythms and huge crashing climaxes give it a primitive cast not at all as one would expect from the title. The Suite/suite’s title is an idiomatic joke in French, and it is a calmer, rather neoclassic work of five short movements all in dance styles similar to many French harpsichord suites.
Schmitt’s dark and exotic ballet La tragédie de Salomé was written for a ballet orchestra of about 20 players, to accompany a solo dancer. In spite of its erotic and colorful score, which might be compared to Sheherazade, it follows a completely different scenario from the Oscar Wilde version used by Richard Strauss. This Salome does dance for Herod, but she is essentially innocent, obeys her mother, and is horrified at the execution of John the Baptist – being driven to a final fearful frenzy. Hence the title: the Tragedy of Salome. Soprano Jennifer Walker is heard briefly in the fourth of the six movements of the work. Sonics are very good, though with this cornucopia of colorful orchestration I was wishing this had been one of Hyperion’s excellent multichannel SACD releases.
– John Sunier