Schmidt: Symphony No. 2; Fuga Solemnis
Best known today for his apocalyptic oratorio, The Book with Seven Seals, Franz Schmidt’s reputation has long been clouded by the Nazi salute he reportedly gave at its 1938 Viennese premiere, but Hans Keller, no less, called him ‘the most complete musician I have come across’. Naxos’s impressively developing series of his four symphonies will hopefully help a new, wider listenership hear why.
Schmidt is often off-puttingly compared to Reger because of his love of counterpoint and fugue but, as this joyous recording of his Second Symphony shows, his musical personality is much warmer and more engaging, even when the compositional processes are no less rigorous.
Begun after Schmidt had quit his job among the back-desk cellos of the Vienna Philharmonic (and, perhaps equally significantly, after the death of Mahler, whose envy of his early symphonic success had, Schmidt felt, cheated him of the front-desk position), the whole Symphony exudes a springlike freshness that grows organically from the sinuously unfurling theme with which it begins to the resplendent, Hungarian-hued rondo-fugue with which it ends.
Unfazed by its filigree complexities, Vassily Sinaisky and his Swedish orchestra excel in the ingeniously conceived second movement, a 20-minute set of ten kaleidoscopically contrasted variations that double as slow movement and scherzo and trio combined. The Fuga Solemnis is a slow-burning bonus, solemn for its first third, before the solo organ gathers momentum from brass and drums, and the music powers towards its climax. Mark Pappenheim