Sunday, August 23, 2009

Schmidt, the tarnished Austrian

Even more than Richard Strauss, Nazi sympathies have managed to tarnish the reputation of Austrian composer Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) forever, one of the reasons why his works are rarely performed. Granted, it was partially his own fault (although it appears it was more naivity than real sympathy that made him welcome the national socialist overlords), but his fall from grace is unwarranted. He was an accomplished composer, espcially in the symphonic oeuvre, building upon the legacy of Schubert and Bruckner, with a hint of modern influences - still, late romanticism would be the most suitable description of his style. His best works are his four symphonies and the opera Notre Dame. The symphonies span a large part of his active years (1896-1933) and all of them are well worth hearing. The fourth is probably his most performed work, but it is not available yet on Naxos. Never mind, because the first symphony, which was released recently on Naxos, serves as an excellent introduction to his oeuvre. Astonishingly mature for a 22 year old, this 45 minutes four movement work evokes Bruckner, Brahms and Reger, whilst firmly making a claim as the first work of a great symphonist. Excellent performance by the Malmo Symphony Orchestra under Sinaisky and exemplary recording. The remaining tracks are interesting as well: three instrumental excerpts from the first act of his acclaimed opera Notre Dame. Warmly recommended.