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Hyperion Records

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The Death of John the Baptist (detail) by Jack Hayes
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67599
Recording details: October 2006
Brangwyn Hall, Guildhall, Swansea, Wales
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: June 2007
Total duration: 30 minutes 19 seconds

'Thierry Fischer is a committed advocate of this often mesmerising score, and the BBC NOW rises enthusiastically to its challenges, sinister at first, glitzy in the Dance of Pearls, and packing a punch at the end … Christine Buffle is a commanding soloist … the orchestra and chorus clearly have a tremendous time … the rarely heard Suite sans esprit de suite is an engaging bonus in a packed and enticing disc' (BBC Music Magazine)

'One of his most stirring pieces [Psalm 47]. However, his exotic ballet on the Salome story is his masterpiece, and it is scored with great ingenuity; the lesser known Suite, finally, strings together five varied dances … the performances are excellent and full of telling detail' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This is exhilarating stuff on a big—make that B-I-G—scale … and Hyperion delivers cold, colorful sonics—almost SACD quality—to match' (American Record Guide)

'The three thrilling and beautiful works recorded here make a strong case for his music … Psalm 47 … is a work extravagant enough for Schmitt to have been termed 'the new Berlioz' … music that swaggers with barbaric splendour and radiates luxuriant ecstasy … this is a fantastically uplifting musical spectacular! [Suite sans esprit de suite] the work as a whole exudes brilliance and tenderness, wit and charm, and is orchestrated both skilfully and imaginatively … [La tragédie de Salomé] whether mysterious or furious, Schmitt's command of orchestral magnificence and colour is masterly, as is his ability to characterise through melody and sound. These three works enjoy a resounding and sensitive response from Thierry Fischer and his BBC Welsh forces in music that will surely find popularity through this release … resplendent in performance and recording quality' (International Record Review)

'Thierry Fischer's no-holds-barred approach brings Schmitt's Psalm and Salomé to vivid life … terrific stuff' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hyperion’s panoramic aural perspective, warmly detailed in quieter moments and tumultuously filled at the frequently frenzied, makes a best sonic case for these overloaded blockbusters, the glistening, profound orchestral capture rendering Florent Schmitt’s fin de siecle contrivance of luridly empurpled passages with varieties of violet and mauve, so to speak, as seen through smog in a Los Angeles sunset … enthusiastically recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'Fischer's slightly slower tempos and stunning sonics capture the crushing power of both pieces so well that there's no question of any lack of excitement. The magnificent engineering really counts in this brilliant but also very heavily scored music. The BBC National Orchestra plays with plenty of power … if you don't know this music, here's your chance to get acquainted with two very grand 20th century masterpieces' (ClassicsToday.com)

'Psalm 47 is certainly not for the faint-hearted. It begins and ends in a huge welter of sound, with vigorous dance rhythms and brilliantly coloured orchestration. The BBC Chorus of Wales gives a confident account of music its members can’t have sung very often, if at all. Anglo-Swiss soprano Christine Buffle sings the seductively tender central solo with great tonal warmth, matched by orchestra leader Lesley Hatfield’s supple playing in the accompanying violin obbligato … the orchestral sound in this performance 'La tragédie de Salomé' has a seductive tonal allure, and some beautifully phrased woodwind playing, the dance rhythms have a real spring in their heels, and the wordless women’s voices of the chorus and solo soprano Jennifer Walker take their place as an additional tone-colour very effectively. The whole thing is shaped with a keen sense of drama … Hyperion’s recording has depth and presence, and handles the massive wall of sound in Psalm 47 comfortably. This is Thierry Fischer’s first recording as Principal Conductor of BBCNOW; it looks set to be an exciting partnership' (ClassicalSource.com)

'L'enthousiasme du chef, l'assurance de ses musiciens et la discipline des choeurs (parfaitement intelligibles): Il y avait de quoi nous offrir un Psaume XLVII titanesque et extatique à souhait' (Diapason, France)

Psaume XLVII, Op 38
composer
1904; first performed in December 1906 in the concert hall of the Paris Conservatoire
author of text
Psalm 47 (46); significantly expanded and adapted

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Schmitt took his text for Psaume XLVII from the French translation of the Vulgate (in which the psalm is numbered 46; his work is sometimes called Psalm 46 in Catholic countries), but his treatment of it is defiantly un-ecclesiastical. Instead he interpreted the text as a paean of savage triumph sung by an oriental race; in his autobiography he said that he was trying to transpose into Biblical terms the ceremonial acclamations of the Ottoman Sultan which he had witnessed at Istanbul in 1903. From the deliberately clashing fanfares of the opening, the result is full-blooded, making extravagant but thrilling use of the large forces at Schmitt’s disposal, and with a pronounced exotic, eastern flavour. The orientalism is really all this work can be said to share with the contemporary compositions of Debussy and Ravel: the piece’s grand rhetoric and pulverizing climaxes have more in common with the symphonic poems of Richard Strauss, whom Schmitt greatly admired, and the pungent dissonances of Schmitt’s harmony (which look towards Strauss’s not-yet-composed Salome and Elektra) strike a new note in French music. So do Schmitt’s insistent, jabbing dotted rhythms, which give the music a kind of barbaric élan.

When the noise and fury subsides, in the middle section, it is replaced by an equally ‘oriental’ evocation of sensuous languor, led off by melismatic writing for violin and bassoon that would not be out of place in a setting of the Song of Solomon, but the final part of the work piles Pelion upon Ossa in terms of sheer orchestral force. It was this aspect of the work which most impressed its first audiences and seemed to announce the arrival of a major new force in French music when the Psalm was premiered in the concert hall of the Paris Conservatoire in December 1906. Schmitt’s friend, the bohemian poet Léon-Paul Fargue, wrote dithyrambs in (untranslatable) approval of the new sounds produced by ‘cet orchestre de triphtongues, de saxotartes, de trimbalets, de tromboches, de pangibles et de fusils …’. It is hardly surprising that Schmitt was soon being dubbed ‘the new Berlioz’ by the French musical press.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007

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