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Rob Haskins
American Record Guide, September 2011

Florent Schmitt (1870–1958) avoided labels of all sorts. His early music, like this piano quintet, reminds me of a Gallic Richard Strauss: the three movements in the 58-minute work bristle with thematic material and dense, sinewy polyphonic textures. A Tour d’Anches (1939–43)—for piano, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon—is more spare, less chromatic, and very witty. It’s hard to imagine two pieces from the same composer that differ as much as these.

The performances and sound engineering are first-rate, and Naxos’s price makes the disc a justifiable frivolous purchase for people looking slightly off the beaten path for early 20th Century French music.



Henry Fogel
Fanfare, September 2011

Most of us, if we know the music of Florent Schmitt (1870–1958) at all, are familiar with La Tragédie de Salomé and perhaps his setting of Psalm 47. The more of his music that I encounter, the more I find him an extremely satisfying composer on the second rung from the top. Certainly Debussy and Ravel, and quite probably Fauré, occupy a higher rung, but that does not mean Schmitt should be easily dismissed. His music has character and a strong presence, and is brilliantly crafted. He wrote in a range of musical styles, as demonstrated by the wildly different works on this disc, but if that is a serious accusation against a composer, the first charges can be filed against Stravinsky.

The Piano Quintet is perhaps Schmitt’s best-known work after Salomé and Psalm 47. Schmitt himself made an early recording of the slow movement, with the Calvet Quartet, and I have heard two other recordings of the complete work: the Bern Quartet and Walter Bärtschi on Accord, and the Stanislas Quartet with Christian Ivaldi on Timpani. This Naxos recording stands up to both of those, and in fact surpasses them. The Berliners pace the music perfectly, and their attention to dynamic gradations is spot-on. This is a big, post-Romantic piece of chamber music, almost an hour long, and for performers to hold our attention throughout requires concentration, careful balancing of voices so the melodic material is always clear, and sometimes a thinning out of the music’s thick textures. All of those qualities are present here.

If the Piano Quintet is a heavy, dramatic work with echoes of Franck or Chausson, À Tour d’anches is the opposite. It is a dry, witty, lighthearted work in the spirit of the lighter Milhaud, Françaix, or Ibert. It has sparkle to spare, and should charm any listener, especially in this alive, charming performance. The title seems to be translated in a few different ways, depending on the sources: “A Tower of Reeds” and “Around Reeds” are the two I’ve encountered most frequently—the “reeds” referring to the instruments for which the piece is scored (oboe, clarinet, and bassoon).

Anyone interested in exploring out-of-the-way French repertoire should consider this disc. I have continued to enjoy it immensely on repeated hearing. Excellent, clean, well-balanced recorded sound and helpful notes round out the production.



Mike D. Brownell
Allmusic.com, June 2011

A student of Fauré and Massenet, and contemporary and colleague of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky, composer Florent Schmitt’s exceptional notoriety diminished rapidly after his death in 1958. Now, his name is little mentioned and his music infrequently heard. He composed actively for much of his 88-year lifespan, contributing literature to many different genres. This Naxos album focuses on two of his more noteworthy chamber music compositions, the Op. 51 Piano Quintet of 1908 and Á tour d’anches, Op. 97, of 1943. The piano quintet, clocking in at nearly an hour, is one of the lengthiest and most challenging in the repertoire. There are moments when Schmitt’s writing could easily be confused as Ravel’s, while at other times he treads his own path, encouraging virtuosic displays. Á tour d’anches, written for piano, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon is a much more modern-sounding composition in which Schmitt’s French roots are still quite noticeable. Giving its best attempts at reviving Schmitt’s works is the Soliste-Ensemble Berlin. The Piano Quintet is performed with laudable endurance, variety of colors and textures, and clear and exciting commitment to the score. What’s lacking from the string players, however, is consistently reliable intonation. Even with the frequent pitch problems, listeners will still enjoy the exposure to this titanic chamber work and wonder why Schmitt’s works are not performed for often. Á tour d’anches is treated to the same level of integrity and commitment, but without the intonation issues of the quintet, making it the stronger performance on the disc.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

More extended than most symphonies, Florent Schmitt’s Piano Quintet stands as an epic score of its genre. It comes from a composer who during his lifetime was one of the most highly regarded musicians in France, and whose music disappeared from the repertoire almost from the day he died. Today he is known, even in musical circles, by no more than a handful of works, the ballet, La tragédie de Salome, being the one great remaining masterpiece. Yet he was in 1900 the winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome, which allowed him the luxury of living in Italy so as to devote himself to composition, the Piano Quintet, composed over a long period, being one of the works that resulted from that period. In three long movements—the two outer ones each lasting more than twenty minutes—the drama of the opening giving way to a sad wistfulness in the central Lent before embarking on a finale of considerable brilliance. Throughout the piano is the dominant voice often to the extent that it is a concerto with string quartet accompaniment. On this disc the outstanding German pianist, Birgitta Wollenweber, is the powerful and virtuoso performer whose nimble fingers perfectly capture Schmitt’s ornate decorations.






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2:39:05 AM, 20 April 2014
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