FRANZ SCHMIDT: Symphony No. 1 in E Major; Orchestral Excerpts from Notre Dame, Op. 2 – Malmö Symphony Orchestra/ Vassily Sinaisky – Naxos 8.570828, 61:02 ****:
Composer Franz Schmidt – who lived until 1939 – was of mixed Hungarian and German descent, a skilled cellist, piano virtuoso and pianist in chamber music, and conductor. His musical reputation has been overshadowed by Mahler and Bruckner who were his contemporaries, and by Nazi authorities naming him a “Composer of Distinction” in 1938 – not his fault. At the Vienna Conservatory he was in the same harmony class with Bruckner, and though be started in the Vienna Philharmonic as the first chair cellist under Mahler, he soon left due to an ongoing feud with the conductor.
The first of Schmidt’s four symphonies is on a grand scale and influenced by Bruckner, Brahms and Reger, with some Baroque tendencies to be heard. Its first movement has an almost Wagnerian character, and the last of its four movements extensively uses contrapuntal and fugal elements plus a “chorale” theme. Sumptuous sound is the hallmark of the symphony, making one surprised that this composer has been almost completely ignored today. The sonics of the Swedish-made recording are more transparent and detailed than that of the First Symphony in the Opus 4-CD set of the complete symphonies with the Radio Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.
The last three tracks are instrumental excerpts from Schmidt’s opera based on Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris, which struggled for performance for a decade after he had composed it. The center Intermezzo is a portrait of the tale’s gypsy girl Esmeralda, and the final section presents Carnival Music in rich and colorful orchestration.
– John Sunier