Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) was a contemporary of Ravel, Roussel and Dukas, and like them he wrote music for the ballet, including Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. In the early decades of the 20th century his name was well known but his reputation suffered after the 1930s. The reasons were partly personal – Schmitt was a cantankerous personality and Nazi sympathiser – but also his richly orchestrated, fulsomely chromatic style fell out of fashion.
The three works on this stunningly recorded disc are among Schmitt’s better-known. His ballet The Tragedy of Salome was written at exactly the same time as Richard Strauss’s opera, although the opera was performed first and its notoriety overshadowed the Frenchman’s score. The ballet is packed with “orientalisms”, cymbal-topped climaxes and disembodied melismatic sopranos. Big on atmosphere and beautifully played, the performance is subdued compared to the ancient Paray version (Mercury) and the white-hot performance from the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic (Onyx).
Psalm 47 is a setting of biblical verses for soprano, large choir and orchestra. It employs the same exotic palette, but here the prolonged choral fortes and relentless climaxes invoke the law of diminishing returns. A few calm moments, usually involving the excellent Susan Bullock, provide welcome respite. The tone poem The Haunted Palace, based on Poe’s House of Usher, maintains a suitably dark mood.
Tortelier coaxes subtle colours from the Brazilian orchestra he inherited in 2008 when their longtime conductor John Neschling was dismissed.