RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘This is music of great power and harmonious adventurousness, beautifully crafted and patiently built up’
Hugo Shirley gives an enthusiastic welcome to a revelatory recording of the complete symphonies of Franz Schmidt by Paavo Järvi and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Schmidt Complete Symphonies. Notre Dame – Intermezzo Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra / Paavo Järvi DG M c 483 8336GH3 (3h 1’ • DDD) Recorded live at the Alte Oper and hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt, 2013-18
Deutsche Grammophon’s booklet note for this new recording arguably exaggerates the neglect of Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) and his four symphonies, but there’s no denying that this is a hugely significant release for the Austrian composer, and one that reflects growing interest in his work. It follows two separate recordings of Symphony No 2 that came out in 2017 (including one from the Vienna Philharmonic, Schmidt’s own orchestra at the start of the 20th century), while the powerfully elegiac Fourth, the best‑represented on disc, has been given a recent additional boost by Kirill Petrenko, who brought it to the Proms with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2018.
Schmidt is clearly also a favourite in the Järvi family. Kristjan has recorded his apocalyptic oratorio Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln
(Chandos, 6/08), while Neeme’s survey of the symphonies (also Chandos) with the orchestras in Detroit and Chicago still holds up extremely well as a recommendation ahead of Vasily Sinaisky’s respectable rather than exceptional Naxos cycle.
Paavo shares plenty of his father’s virtues in the works, not least an apparently instinctive ability to draw Schmidt’s symphonic threads together into performances that are persuasive, powerful and, thanks here to the rich-sounding Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, very well played to boot. But the new set boasts its own qualities: an unfailing musicality, an extra sense of refinement, a seriousness that never spills over into portentousness, an ability to let Schmidt’s ideas unfurl naturally.
Although captured live in Frankfurt over a leisurely five-year period, the richly recorded performances have a real sense of coherence. As a set, they allow the listener to trace Schmidt’s development in a genre whose gods were very much in their twilight. The composer eschewed both the expansion (in terms of duration and instrumentation) favoured by Mahler and the descriptive route chosen by
Strauss. Instead he resolutely charted a course in the tradition of Brahms and Bruckner.
But Schmidt’s is a distinctive sound world all his own. Tonality is pushed, pulled and stretched – but never beyond breaking point. Violin lines, often sweetened with characteristic languid turns, soar up over the stave in winding counterpoint; the winds burble or weave their PH O T O G R A P H Y
K N A B E
: B E N
26 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2020