Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, May 2011

With this, Vassily Sinaisky brings to a close his cycle of the four Schmidt symphonies for Naxos, and what a distinguished cycle it has been. What a pleasure it is for us old-timers to even be able to compare different Schmidt cycles.

This symphony was completed in 1933, and was written as a Requiem for Schmidt’s daughter, Emma, who died in childbirth. Schmidt’s life had other tragedies—including the mental breakdown of his first wife (who was institutionalized in 1919, and killed by the Nazis in 1942, three years after Schmidt died). This is a remarkable work—quite unlike any other post-Romantic symphony I know of. It is conceived in a single overarching movement, though its four large sections serve the roles of different movements. Nowhere, however, does the spirit of a jovial scherzo inhabit this music—even the molto vivace third movement is tinged with the macabre, and ultimately the music’s world crashes in on itself through the creation of some amazing harmonic tension. The symphony’s opening, a desolate, chromatic solo trumpet tune, doesn’t seem substantial enough to be the foundation of a 50-minute symphony, but that is precisely what it is. This melancholy beginning serves as the thematic underpinning of a great deal of the work. Schmidt finds the potential in this tune for music fast and slow, richly textured or sparse.

This performance clearly belongs in a group at the top…If you do not know this work, but like the late-Romantic style (Schmidt is truly the last of the Austro-German symphonists, not Mahler as we are usually told), this budget-priced Naxos disc would be a great way to get to know a very special composer.

Sinaisky is quicker than most of the competition, but it never feels rushed because of his supple phrasing and keen ear for orchestral color and balance. He molds phrases firmly, and the music is held together by a sense of direction throughout. His way with dynamic shading and color, and the actual sonority he gets, emphasize the inherent bittersweet sadness at the core of this music. In the end, the impression this performance leaves is one of gentleness and intimacy, and that is a singularly appropriate view. There is more crushing weight in other performances, and that has its rewards, too. But no one interpretive viewpoint can give equal weight to everything in this score. This is a heartbreakingly beautiful piece of music, and Sinaisky and his excellent Malmö musicians give us a deeply moving performance of it.

The filler is substantial—an extremely skillful, colorful set of variations for orchestra that reveals Schmidt as a wonderful orchestrator. And to anyone who claims that Schmidt’s music lacks individuality or a distinctive voice, these Hussar Variations stand as a vivid refutation. Listen to three measures and tell me that this is not the same composer who wrote the symphony that precedes it on the disc. Once again, the performance is first-rate. Naxos’s sound is well balanced and transparent, while not sacrificing richness. Keith Anderson’s notes are informative.

Don O’Connor
American Record Guide, March 2011

The Malmö Orchestra plays with spirit and, when needed, sensitivity. Naxos’s sound is accurate, with a broad dynamic range. At a budget price, this cycle competes with the best. For anyone not familiar with the music of this post-romantic master, it’s the ideal introduction.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, February 2011

Sinaisky’s Schmidt cycle tackles two of the composer’s more elusive scores

Let there be no doubt, Franz Schmidt’s Fourth (1933) is one of the finest of 20th-century symphonies. Its alternately winsome and tragic atmosphere, where even the major instrumental solos bear autobiographical resonances, make it a very special work emotionally. Unapologetically lyrical and melodic from first bar to last, it is also very closely constructed, the themes driving from the long opening trumpet solo (which instrument Schmidt played as a student). In design its four sections run continuously, built from three movements, the slow movement featuring prominent solos for Schmidt’s own instrument, the cello. The recapitulation of the first movement is delayed and extended to form the finale. Even Liszt and Nielsen did not think of that!

Sinaisky’s previous recordings in this series have shown him to be a most sympathetic Schmidt interpreter, albeit a touch cautious in choice of tempi. So generally it proves here—compare this account with Järvi’s, which is four minutes swifter—and if I would have preferred a touch more impulsion in the Allegro molto moderato, Sinaisky undeniably makes his pacing work. I would still select Welser-Möst’s beautifully played account with Schmidt’s own Vienna Philharmonic as first choice in both the symphony and the Hussar’s Song Variations (1930) but Sinaisky is a fine alternative and preferable to Luisi, who offers no coupling (Järvi has Strauss’s symphonic fragment from Josephslegende). Naxos’s sound is most serviceable…At super-budget price, though, this is unreservedly recommended.

Mark Pappenheim
BBC Music Magazine, January 2011

There’s eloquent 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 equally 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.

Robert Reilly
CatholiCity, December 2010

One of the glories of symphonic music from the first half of the 20th century is the set of Four Symphonies by Austrian composer Franz Schmidt (1874–1939). Vassily Sinaisky and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra have now concluded their cycle for Naxos with a recording of the Fourth, accompanied by Variations on a Hussar’s Song (8.572118). Franz Welser-Most and the London Philharmonic duplicate this repertory on the EMI label with performances that are more intense and dramatic, but Sinaisky fully captures the glorious sumptuousness of this music. His tempi are broader, but, if you have the patience, the payoff is there. This budget Naxos Schmidt cycle is clearly one of the supreme bargains of the year., December 2010

The emotions of Franz Schmidt’s Symphony No. 4 are more on the surface but no less intense. This is Schmidt’s most personal and most anguished symphony, written in 1933 as a requiem for his daughter, Emma, who died in childbirth the year before. Schmidt was a careful and controlled composer, more comfortable crafting finely honed works that did not delve too deeply into emotions than in creating intensely heartfelt ones. In this symphony, there is less of the anguish that the composer must have felt than there would be in a work by a composer more comfortable wearing his heart on his proverbial sleeve—Rachmaninoff, say. The symphony is nevertheless an impressive work that has more genuine depth of feeling than Schmidt’s other three. The second movement, in particular, begins with a solo cello and continues with muffled, funereal drums, producing an impression of genuine sorrow and mourning. Vassily Sinaisky and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra play the work as effectively as they played Schmidt’s other symphonies on earlier Naxos releases, making it as passionate and emotive as Schmidt was capable of being. And the symphony’s darkness—which emerges despite its nominal key of C Major—is well contrasted with Variations on a Hussar’s Song, a very well-structured work that shows Schmidt in more comfortable territory both because it is less overtly emotional and because the composer was a master of the variation form. Written in 1930 and lasting nearly half an hour, this piece features an elaborate structure that includes a fugato and elements that have the sound of a scherzo, a fantasy and some straightforward thematic repetitions. It is skillfully orchestrated and well-wrought throughout, making no attempt at profundity and needing none to come across effectively.

David Hurwitz, December 2010

Franz Schmidt was an inconsistent composer, and his Variations on a Hussar’s Song is an odd work. The best thing about it is the song; the variations are nothing special. It’s a jolly, diatonic tune that Schmidt decorates with increasingly ugly chromatic doodads as the music proceeds. A note in the score makes a special point of the fact that the composer uses no divisi strings at any point, as if this matters. Still, this is a good performance; it may be that the first trumpet fails to assert himself ideally, and the percussion is a touch recessed, but the work’s 28 minutes pass pleasantly enough.

The symphony, on the other hand, is a masterpiece, and it has been well treated on disc. Mehta’s Vienna Philharmonic recording remains the benchmark, and if you want modern sound, Kreizberg’s (PentaTone) also is quite good. So is this one. To be sure, the Malmö strings haven’t the weight and richness of the Vienna Philharmonic, but the performance is very well paced and the Naxos engineers see to it that textures remain clean and clear (the harp is particularly well caught). Given the fact that the Variations constitute a genuine rarity, and you may well enjoy that work more than I did, this release is certainly recommendable as a supplement to the Mehta recording of the symphony.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Sadly we come to the end of the cycle of Franz Schmidt’s symphonies, one of the finest releases in the Naxos catalogue [also available: Symphony No. 1 Naxos 8.570828, Symphony No. 2 Naxos 8.570589 and Symphony No. 3 Naxos 8.572119]. His symphonic scores were in a style handed down from Brahms and Reger, and arrived when music was in a state of turmoil at the turn of the century. This Fourth was written in 1933, and was an outpouring of grief at the death of his thirty-year-old daughter. It is a moving, beautifully crafted score that could well have come from the young Richard Strauss. In one long unbroken span lasting almost fifty minutes, it divides itself into the four conventional movements, and calls for a large orchestra that is only used for a few climatic moments. Sadness erupts and simmers in an extended first movement, a cello solo linking into the following Adagio where Schmidt employs the solo woodwind in sombre mood, muffled drums and strings introducing a Mahlerian funeral march. The Scherzo brings back memories of happier times before a violent eruption leads into a finale that ends in peace and quietness. Completed the previous year, Variations on a Hussar’s Song was dedicated to the great conductor, Clemens Kraus, and it was he who gave the first performance with the Vienna Philharmonic. Often a dark score, it has few moments of joy until we reach a boisterous finale. Neither piece could hope for a more persuasive performance, the Malmö Symphony and their Russian-born Principal Conductor, Vassily Sinaisky, bring such a telling gravitas to the symphony, the sound of every department placing it among the elite of European orchestras. They are greatly helped by the clarity, warmth and perfectly balanced sound obtained by the engineering team.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group