Franz Schmidt, Strauss, Bychkov, Vienna Philharmonic

Franz Schmidt • Richard Strauss
Symphony No 2, Dreaming by the Fireside
Vienna Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov
SONY 88985355522

“In my salad days when I was green in judgement” I would have considered this love child of Bruckner and Richard Strauss as orchestration all dressed up with nowhere to go. As a more mature listener, I loved this symphony.

Poor Franz Schmidt was forever doomed to be eclipsed by Strauss and Bruckner, though his music lacks Strauss’s hothouse chromaticism and Bruckner’s rhetoric, while also avoiding Mahler’s neuraesthenic contortions. The music also lacks what the Viennese call Schwung (roughly “oomph” in English). The only problem is a tendency to meander without ever quite reaching a climax (until the very end).

The symphony is long arched and the first movement has a distinctly attractive pastoral flavour. The middle movement, a theme and variations, is more original, with the final variations a built-in scherzo and a middle section redolent of the famous Intermezzo to Schmidt’s opera Notre Dame. The climax is quite protracted and is burnished beautifully by the Vienna Philharmonic’s nine horns, making the finale a blaze of memorable glory. It’s still fair to say no other orchestra can “inhabit” this sort of music as intimately as the VPO.

One black mark: as someone who regularly listens to Chandos CDs with 80’ content, shame on Sony for including just one Interlude from Richard Strauss’s Intermezzo instead of all four, still leaving room for the Notre Dame Intermezzo as well!