Symphony No. 1
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Jonathan Berman
Accentus ACC505441 (digital only) 46:09 mins
The bandwagon for Franz Schmidt seems to be gathering pace. Following Paavo Järvi’s much acclaimed symphony cycle for DG comes this first instalment in a homegrown project designed to bring the composer’s somewhat undervalued orchestral output into the mainstream.
Apart from the already highly regarded Fourth Symphony, I can think of no more accessible introduction to Schmidt than his youthful first essay in the medium. Although his First Symphony is strongly indebted to a range of different composers, from Schumann and Brahms to Wagner and Richard Strauss, Schmidt’s distinctive lyrical style emerges intermittently, particularly in the atmospheric Hungarian-flavoured slow movement and the more reflective sections of the Scherzo. Furthermore, the composer’s masterly handling of structure and orchestration already marks this out as an exceptionally accomplished piece of music.
Jonathan Berman and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales deliver a terrific performance which provides a fine alternative to the excellent version from Paavo Järvi. In general Berman opts for slightly more expansive tempos than his Estonian colleague. This brings greater emotional intensity to the climax of the slow movement, though I slightly prefer the lighter articulation Järvi secures in the ensuing Scherzo. But what really makes this new recording so enticing is the sheer energy and enthusiasm with which conductor and orchestra communicate the vigour and optimism of the opening movement.
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