Schimtt: La tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50; Le palais hanté, Op. 49; Psaume XLVII, Op. 38

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COMPOSERS: Schmitt
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: La tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50; Le palais hanté, Op. 49; Psaume XLVII, Op. 38
PERFORMER: Susan Bullock (soprano); S˜ao Paulo SO & Choir/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5090 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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It’s just a year since Sascha Goetzel’s combustible Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic version of the suite from Florent Schmitt’s sensuously exotic ballet La tragédie de Salomé, and here is another to challenge it. There are clear differences between the two recordings: where Goetzel’s account is sharp and angular in attack, Yan Pascal Tortelier is more supple and caressing, emphasising the score’s Gallic progeniture.

Both approaches work, but it’s the Chandos engineering that really makes the difference, with much more transparency in the rich orchestration, and a palpably bigger soundstage, especially on the sumptuous multichannel SACD layer. The glimmering palpitations of Salomé’s ‘Danse des perles’ are more erotically present in the São Paulo orchestra’s version, the climaxes in ‘Les enchantements sur la mer’ more visceral.

Going from the lurid sex and violence of Salomé to Schmitt’s setting of Psalm 47 should be a major wrench stylistically, but isn’t: the orgiastic volleys of brass and percussion in its opening paragraph have a distinctly pagan feel about them, and are a long way from conventional religiosity. Tortelier again excels in the untrammelled sensuality of the middle section, where solo violin and soprano exchange indecently lavish rhapsodies – from sound alone, you would never guess it’s based on a Biblical text.

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Thierry Fischer’s rival Hyperion release offers both the Psalm and Salomé, also in highly persuasive performances. But for me the extra sensory charge of Tortelier and the heady swirl of this music-making  has the edge. This is a superb CD, and an ideal introduction to the perilously seductive sound-world of this composer. Terry Blain