Franz Schmidt – Symphony No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Schmidt
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Chaconne
PERFORMER: Malmö SO/Vassily Sinaisky
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572119

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Premiered in 1928 by the Vienna Philharmonic, Franz Schmidt’s Third Symphony was composed for a competition run by America’s Columbia Graphophone Company to find the best new symphony written ‘in the spirit of Schubert’ (whose centenary fell that year).

The $10,000 top prize went to the Swede, Kurt Atterberg – whose Sixth was instantly dubbed ‘the Dollar Symphony’ – yet Schmidt’s Third did still win the Austrian section and here receives a performance of surely prize-winning quality from Vassily Sinaisky and his (ironically) Swedish orchestra as part of their ongoing and consistently impressive cycle of Schmidt symphonies.

As for ‘the spirit of Schubert’, the first movement certainly opens in a mood of sunny, open-hearted Romanticism, with a radiantly lyrical, flute-led pastoral tune, but it soon begins to exude something of the heady, gypsy-style eroticism of Esmeralda’s music in Schmidt’s early opera Notre Dame, before reaching a sumptuously Straussian climax – after which the blissed-out variations of the ensuing Adagio suggests the delicious languors of post-coital contentment.

All is back to bucolic innocence for the folksy, Ländler-style Scherzo, while the solemn Brucknerian chorale-march that opens the finale soon gives way to another increasingly lively, tarantella-like dance. Schmidt’s instrumental inventiveness and thematic resource are a constant delight, with Sinaisky and his players triumphantly surmounting every technical hurdle. 

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At 50 minutes, it’s a substantial work, so the addition of the 27-minute Chaconne (a 1925 organ solo orchestrated in 1931) is a generous bonus. As always, variations find Schmidt on best form, allowing him to revel in his orchestral mastery while lending coherence to his sometimes diffuse inspiration. sometimes diffuse inspiration.  Mark Pappenheim