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In the Studio: JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic explore works by Florent Schmitt

June 17, 2020

by JoAnn Falletta

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) and I are delighted to be releasing a second album of the works of the extraordinary French composer Florent Schmitt in November, just as the music world marks his 150th birthday. Perhaps this anniversary has been somewhat overshadowed by Beethoven’s 250th celebration, but Schmitt is a composer who deserves far more recognition than he has received. He is an extremely important part of French compositional development in the 20th century, and his strong original voice illuminates the period between Impressionism and Modernism in France in a way that no other composer does.

We first discovered Florent Schmitt when working on our first Naxos recording of his music in 2015, and the BPO musicians and I were intrigued with his unique blending of the elegant fragrance of Impressionism with the drama and colour of German romanticism. French to the core, Florent Schmitt nonetheless was a great advocate of German music, and that admiration shines through his work in his structure and in his passion.

Antoine et Cléopâtre Suites Nos. 1 and 2 • Le Palais Hanté

Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta

We loved performing and recording Schmitt’s Antony and Cleopatra and his Haunted Mansion, inspired by Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe respectively. For this second album, we turned to equally vivid music, including two works never before recorded.

Florent Schmitt seemed fascinated by strong women of questionable virtue, and his The Tragedy of Salome is a masterful retelling of the exotic beauty who dances for Herod and demands the head of John the Baptist as her reward. A stunning moment in the piece is the wordless singing of Salome and her young handmaidens, beautifully realised by mezzo-soprano Susan Platts and the Women’s Choir of Buffalo. This is passionate and seductive music at its best, and Schmitt creates a landscape that is both sensuous and dangerous. He takes a similar approach with the insatiable Oriane, and the alternation of gorgeous love music and wild orgiastic dances is absolutely thrilling.

Susan Platts is also featured in one of the most beautiful orchestral songs every composed—Musique sur l’eau, a jewel of a composition that rivals the greatest works in that genre. Superstar violinist Nikki Chooi is the radiant soloist in Légende, a brooding and ecstatic rhapsody never before heard in Schmitt’s version for violin and orchestra.

The Buffalo Philharmonic musicians and I give enormous thanks to our two producer/engineers, Tim Handley and Bernd Gottinger, for their artistry and stewardship. We deeply appreciate the advice, knowledge and enthusiasm of Schmitt scholar and dear friend Phillip Nones. We are especially grateful to Klaus Heymann of Naxos for his encouragement and support. It is because of his great passion for music that we are able to explore untrodden paths and to bring unknown or little-known works to life in the voice of the Buffalo Philharmonic.

We hope you will celebrate Florent Schmitt’s 150th birthday with his glorious music!

Schmitt scholars posing with BPO music director JoAnn Falletta and concertmaster Nikki Chooi, following their performance of Florent Schmitt’s Légende (March 2020)
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in rehearsal
The dress rehearsal for the March 2020 concerts featuring two F. Schmitt compositions: Légende and Oriane et le Prince d’Amour.
JoAnn Falletta with violinist Nikki Chooi following the BPO’s performance of F. Schmitt’s Légende
Violinist Nikki Chooi in concert
JoAnn Falletta (centre) with BPO’s harpists Grace Browning (left) and Madeline Olson (right)


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