WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in C; Variations on a Hussar’s Song
PERFORMER: Malmö SO/Vassily Sinaisky
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572118
Composed in 1933 as a requiem for his only daughter, Emma, who had died in childbirth the year before, Franz Schmidt’s fourth and finest symphony was clearly also conceived as his own memorial. Already ailing from the heart disease that would kill him six years later, he was convinced that he wouldn’t live to complete it.
Yet, formally, it’s an astonishingly vital achievement: a huge overarching sonata-form Allegro embracing within itself a linked Adagio and scherzo, and all emerging from and eventually fading back into a questing solo trumpet theme that symbolises, in Schmidt’s words, ‘the last music that one takes with one into the hereafter, having been born and lived one’s life under its auspices’.
So, while the Adagio – a tenderly paternal love song for solo cello (Schmidt’s own instrument) that retreats before the inexorable drumbeat of an advancing funeral march – overtly enshrines the composer’s lament for his daughter, the entire Symphony constitutes a personal coming-to-terms with death that is all the more poignant for its lack of Mahlerian histrionics.
There’s eloquent orchestral playing in this recording, not least from the trumpet and cello soloists. Vassily Sinaisky’s masterly structural command and choice of tempos (uniquely among currently available recordings, he exactly matches Schmidt’s estimated running-timing of 46 minutes) ensure that, as the Symphony’s transfigured recapitulation moves acceptingly towards its predestined close, the return of its swooningly passionato second subject really does sound, as Schmidt had hoped, like ‘a dying in beauty’.
This quality is shared by the accompanying Variations on a Hussar’s Song, a headily nostalgic evocation of the composer’s Hungarian heritage. Altogether a radiant end to a revelatory cycle. Mark Pappenheim