Schmidt: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Chaconne in D minor. Vassily Sinaisky, Malmo Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.52119.

We don't often hear much anymore of Austrian cellist, pianist, and composer Franz Schmidt (1874-1939). He was apparently popular enough in his day, but times change, and the fickle ways of modern twentieth-century music probably did him in with contemporary audiences who found him too old-fashioned for their taste. In my opinion, the fellow's music simply doesn't have enough imaginative spark or memorable tunes going for it. Who knows.

Schmidt's Symphony No. 3 (1928) won first prize in his corner of the world for the best symphony written in the spirit of Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, the contest a part of the commemoration of Schubert's death a hundred years earlier. Schmidt's Third Symphony sounds vaguely Schubertian in its lyrical melodies, without imitating the man's music in any overt way. The problem with Schmidt's Symphony, though, is that while its melodies are, indeed, flowing and songlike, they aren't very remarkable. The opening movement, for instance, sounds like a bunch of pretty notes, not amounting to much.

The Adagio appears gloomier than anything Schubert ever wrote, and as a set of variations, it really doesn't come out too varied. I am sure it is through no fault of maestro Vassily Sinaisky or his Swedish orchestra that the music progresses with so vague and distant a mood. It seems to have been Schmidt's intent, perhaps as a lament for Schubert.

The Scherzo seems closest to Schubert's delightful verve, yet even here there is an underlying melancholy to the movement. It exudes the flavor of a bouncy, upbeat country dance that never quite catches fire.

The final movement, an Allegro vivace (though certainly only in part), displays Schmidt's greatest invention. It begins slowly, taking its time introducing its subject, and then segues into a sprightly middle section that Sinaisky moves forward at an appropriately steady yet invigorating pace. I'd say the conductor and orchestra inject about as much life into the work as it can sustain without its being jostled out of shape.

While I found the Symphony No. 3 mostly tedious, I rather enjoyed Schmidt's Chaconne in D minor. The composer wrote the work for solo organ in 1925, orchestrated it in 1931, and premiered it with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1933. It is a lovely, often delicate, often powerful piece of music, with pastoral overtones alternately giving way to marchlike segments. Here, Sinaisky is at his best, maintaining a vigorous, pleasant rhythm and creating an engaging atmosphere.

The sound on the album is typical of Naxos. Recorded in 2008 (Symphony No. 3) and 2009 (Chaconne), it's fine, inoffensive, and wholly nondescript. It does its job and no more. The tonal balance is reasonably smooth, yet the frequencies seem cut off at the top and bottom ends. The strings tend to shrillness when pressed too hard, the stage has almost no depth, and the whole affair is without much transparency or sparkle. What we do get is a big, flat, limited aural response that does little to hinder the music but not much to flatter it, either.


1 comment:

  1. Think Franz Schmidt's third symphony is a wonderful symphony of hugely creative complexity and an absolute joy to listen to. There are elements of Richard Strauss here and there, but basically this is a composer who is truly an original and greatly underrated. The exquisite and contemplative first movement is almost beyond compare.


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa