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BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo perform Schmitt

Our rating 
4.5 out of 5 star rating 4.5

Schmitt
Antoine et Cléopâtre – Suites; Symphony No. 2
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Chandos CHSA 5200

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If you had to describe Florent Schmitt’s music for Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra – composed in 1920 for a production starring the Russian dancer and actress Ida Rubinstein – you would say it mingles Ravel and Debussy with a generous sprinkling of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orientalism. The results are, in the opening movement of the two suites recorded here, headily exotic, as harp, celeste and solo violin add sensual commentary to the lovers’ nocturnal assignation.

The sultry, mysterious textures, present also in ‘Nuit au palais de la Reine’ from Suite No. 2, are evocatively conjured by Oramo and the BBC Symphony players. Feverish, bacchanalian energies are unleashed in ‘Orgie et Danses’, a movement specially inserted because the Paris Opéra required a ballet. Oramo’s sharp, punchy conducting gives the episode plenty of visceral impact.

Schmitt’s Symphony No. 2 dates from nearly four decades later, in the last year of his life. It is a more capricious, light-hearted work, and something of a release after the occasional claustrophobia of Antoine et Cléopâtre. Oramo does an especially fine job stitching a narrative thread together from the multiple shifts of mood and perspective in the mercurial opening movement, and the orchestra shows sharply honed reflexes in following him.

The slow movement’s gentle introspections are sweetly shaped by Oramo, with eloquently expressive contributions from the violins. The finale includes a playful xylophone, and is rambunctiously attractive. For the Symphony in particular, this splendidly recorded disc is worth investigating, especially if you know little or none of Schmitt’s music already.

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Terry Blain