WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Variations on a Hussar’s Song
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic/Franz Welser-Möst
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55518 2 DDD
When Schmidt wrote his First Symphony in 1900, the modernist revolution in Vienna had just begun. Thirty-five years on, when Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony was premiered, it was more or less complete. But the whole thing seemed to pass Schmidt by. Both works hark back to an older, safer Vienna, when the symphony was a serious and sober thing, and sudden intrusions of cafe-songs and marches à la Mahler were not tolerated. The First is exuberant and sunny, and its extrovert nature is matched by Järvi’s performance. The sound is a bit coarse: it’s boomy without warmth, like a barman’s greeting. Which is a shame, because the performance has enough warmth to toast your fingers by.
The recording of Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony is very different; refined, inward, delicately coloured. Welser-Möst gives a sense of shape and purpose to Schmidt’s long, winding paragraphs, which can so easily sound aimless. At the same time he luxuriates in the sudden moments of orchestral refulgence and the Italianate melodic turns that brighten the course of this serious and austere work. The recording is admirably clear, but it could do with more fullness. If the disc doesn’t quite convince, that isnreally Welser-Möst’s fault; it’s more to do with an uneasiness in the music itself. Despite himself, Schmidt shows he is living in the 20th century after all; one hears sudden incongruous glimpses of a different musical world, which sit oddly next to the Brucknerian passages. This is especially true of the Variations, where the jaunty melody seems almost comic after the brooding opening. But the music is well worth hearing, and Welser-Möst is a splendid advocate for it. Ivan Hewett