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Schmidt: Symphony No. 4 / Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 1 Original recording remastered

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Original recording remastered, September 12, 1990
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  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Zubin Mehta
  • Composer: Franz Schmidt, Arnold Schoenberg
  • Audio CD (September 12, 1990)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Original recording remastered
  • Label: Polygram Records / Decca
  • ASIN: B00000E4J2
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #424,097 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Zubin Metha made this recording of Franz Schmidt's fourth symphony - which is his masterpiece - in 1971, at a time when Schmidt was more or less forgotten. To some extent, he's still a pretty much unknown late romantic composer, even if Franz Welser-Möst recently has tried hard to prepare for his revival. It is also Welser-Möst's 1994 recording, now available as a bargain EMI disc, that is the primary rival to Metha's. Welser-Möst's recording is very fine and cheap, but Metha's is clearly the one to have. Here are the reasons.

First, this recording was made with Vienna Philharmonic during the successful time Metha had with this stunning orchestra in the early seventies. A few years later (1975), he made his famous recording of Mahler's second symphony with the same orchestra (the present recording can be also found in a Decca twofer with the Mahler symphony).

Second, Metha's recording is a classic, which provides us with a sense of discovery. The orchestra covers new ground, and they play this tragic, solemn masterpiece with great enthusiasm and sober passion.

Third, the recording quality is exceptional for its age. It is as good as on the later Mahler recording. I prefer its refined, warm, and detailed analogue sound to Welser-Möst's all-digital recording, which is a bit chilly. But its fine sound may of course also depend on the excellent acoustics of the Sofiensaal in Vienna.

One can only hope that Decca will release this exceptional interpretation again, in a new remaster, since it is a legendary performance. But if you'll find a copy, grab it now. Schmidt's fourth symphony is a great, moving, and memorable romantic work, and this is the very best interpretation.
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I'd like to echo the comments of the one other review (so far) as there really isn't much more to add. Franz Schmidt's Symphony No. 4 of 1933, written in the wake of the death of the composer's daughter, is undoubtedly his masterpiece -- an incredibly inspired extrapolation of this composer's symphonic style which I like to describe as being sort of ultra-legato Bruckner; i.e., many lines of melody and harmony undulating and intersecting unbroken in a most unique, constantly flowing Late Romantic expression. To appreciate this composer and the special beauties of this symphony in particular, the listener must allow its unbroken lines to wash over them and its ultimate logic to culminate in its own time -- patience is rewarded. I've yet to hear another recording of this work -- more recent ones I know of are from Franz Welser-Möst, Neeme Järvi, and Fabio Luisi -- but the presumptuous feeling here is it really isn't necessary as conductor Zubin Mehta and the Vienna Philharmonic convey the full measure of this work and the warm, early '70s analog recording is exemplary. [ADDENDUM 4/7/09: I've since acquired the fine Welser-Möst/LPO recording on EMI and offer my brief thoughts on its product page - (Schmidt: Symphony No. 4; Variations on a Hussar's Song)]

On another musical plateau altogether is the appended Chamber Symphony No. 1 of Arnold Schoenberg, composed in 1906. It often hints of unabashed atonality, and at least to these ears, is not as immediately appealing. (FWIW, I'm a fan of Schoenberg's comparatively popular Verklärte Nacht.
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Critics and devotees of Schmidt have praised Mehta's account of Sym. #4 since it was released on LP in 1971, with good reason. It's rare for secondary composers like Pfitzner, Hartmann, and Von Einem to receive the high-gloss treatment of a first-rate conductor and orchestra issued by a major label. I'm not here to quibble; in fact, I'm happy to agree that Mehta's account is preferable to either Neeme Jarvi's (too blunt and rough) or Franz Welser'Most's (at times effete and lacking energy). the eloquence of this melancholy work is vastly deepened when it is being played by the Vienna strings, which are given the bulk of the score.

However, previous reviewers make too much of Schmidt's resemblance to Bruckner, his early teacher, when you compare their actual styles to what we hear in the Fourth Sym. Schmidt opens with a solo trumpet playing a mournful motto, setting the stage of massed strings. There is almost no alteration of mood within a given movement; there is almost no polyphony; intricate relationships among thematic groups is absent. Since those are the hallmarks of Bruckner's style, what resemblance is there, other than lofty seriousness? Schmidt is better grouped with hose contemporary German composers listed above who resisted the second Viennese school but also the late-Romantic hyper-chromaticism of Zemlinsky and Korngold in their attempts to find something viable to say after Strauss and Mahler.

The Schmidt Fourth is extraordinarily simple considering its origins in musically tangled Vienna between the wars; the composer was sixty the year it appeared, 1934, and it wasn't his fault that his idiom appealed to Nazi aesthetics, as opposed to the forbidden decadent music of largely Jewish composers (Entartete Musik).
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