Excitement on steroids: A dozen live concert recordings of Florent Schmitt’s blockbuster choral composition Psalm 47 (1904)

Florent Schmitt: Psaume XLVII

A sonic “experience”: Florent Schmitt’s Psalm 47.

For many classical music lovers, nothing can compare to a live performance.  While studio recordings promise greater precision and better sound quality — along with the absence of distracting audience noise – often this comes at the expense of spontaneity and immediacy.

And for a piece of music as viscerally thrilling as Florent Schmitt’s Psalm XLVII, Op. 38, composed in 1904, the excitement is even more exhilarating in a live presentation. But concert performances of this music are still quite rare.

Fortunately for us, the full measure of excitement is captured in a dozen live recordings of this music that are currently available on CD or via high-res download. Even better, they’re directed by some of classical music’s great conductors — among them Désiré Inghelbrecht, Jean Martinon, Eugene Ormandy, Jean Fournet, Louis Frémaux, Leon Botstein and Fabien Gabel.

Florent Schmitt Psaume XLVII score

The first page from a vintage copy of the piano-reduction version of Florent Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII, with copious notes written in by an unknown music director.

Here are details on each of these live recordings, along with links to where they can be heard or purchased:

Désiré Inghelbrecht/L’Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F. & Chorus (1957, 1958 and 1964):

Desire Inghelbrecht, French conductor

Désiré Inghelbrecht gave the premiere performance of Florent Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII in 1906 … and his last one more than a half-century later.

These performances are historically important in that this conductor was the one who gave the world premiere performance of Psalm XLVII back in 1906.

Maestro Inghelbrecht would return to the score numerous times in the ensuing decades, culminating in a performance in 1957, a 1958 Schmitt memorial concert, plus a later 1964 concert the conductor gave a short time before his own death.

While the three performances are a bit rough-hewn, they are well worth hearing.

The 1957 performance features the mezzo-soprano Geneviève Moizan, whose dark-hued interpretation of the important vocal solo in the Psaume‘s middle section is rather different from the way we usually hear these passages — and it’s very impressive, indeed.  This broadcast performance is available from St-Laurent Studio in a CD that also includes works by Claude Debussy conducted by Inghelbrecht.

The 1958 performance was part of an O.R.T.F. memorial concert of Florent Schmitt’s music performed two months after his death, which also featured Régine Crespin as the soprano soloist.  The full 90-minute concert, containing the Psaume and four other Schmitt works, is also available from St-Laurent Studio and can be acquired here.

The later 1964 performance by Maestro Inghelbrecht is also available from the French National Radio archives in a high-res download.

Igor Markevitch/French National Radio Orchestra & Chorus (1953):

Igor Markevitch conducctor

Igor Markevitch (1912-1983) was a composer as well as a conductor. He led Florent Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII in concert several times during the 1950s.

The Ukrainian-born, French-raised composer and conductor Igor Markevitch led a number of live performances of Psaume XLVII during his stage career. His last performance of the piece was in 1957, but undoubtedly the most famous one was in April 1953, when he was joined by the internationally renowned soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf to present the piece with ORTF musical forces at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

Miss Schwarzkopf was not known for being a specialist in French vocal music; still, her performance here is an effective one, and Maestro Markevitch is a fine collaborator in the production. The 1953 performance is now available from Forgotten Records.

Fritz Munch/Strasbourg Municipal Orchestra & Chorus (1954):

Fritz Munch conductor

Fritz Munch (1890-1970), conductor and music administrator, was the older brother of Charles Munch.

One could say that soprano Geneviève Moizan practically “owned” the soprano part to Psaume XLVII during the 1950s and early 1960s after Denise Duval stopped singing it. One of Moizan’s earliest performances of the piece has been released by Forgotten Records. The concert performance dates from 1954 and features the Strasbourg Municipal Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Fritz Munch. Maestro Munch was the older brother of Charles Munch, whose international career — including a celebrated tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — far eclipsed Fritz’s own career as a conductor and music administrator.

In additional to Moizan’s impressive solo work in this 1954 reading, Fritz Munch’s performance of the final moments of the Psaume is particularly notable in how precisely he follows the composer’s explicit instructions noted in the score regarding quickening the tempo and rhythmic emphasis. Indeed, Munch’s may well be the most effective treatment of those ending measures among all the concert performances of the music that I’ve heard.

Louis Frémaux/Chorale Elisabeth Brasseur + Ensemble Instrumental du Grand-Casino de Vichy (1956):

Louis Fremaux conductor

Louis Frémaux (1921-2017) brought Psaume XLVII to the Vichy International Festival in 1956.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Vichy International Festival was among the most important music festivals in France.  In 1956, the conductor Louis Frémaux brought Florent Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII to the festival, leading a performance that featured soprano Jacqueline Brumaire along with the Chorale Elisabeth Brasseur — the choir group that had made the first commercial recording of the Psaume (with Paris Conservatoire musicians) four years earlier.

The Frémaux is a highly-charged interpretation — so super-exciting, it almost goes off the rails the final moments of the piece.  Despite the untidiness in a few spots, Fremaux’s way with the score makes for an undeniably thrilling experience. It’s been released on the Forgotten Records label and is available for purchase at the label’s website.

Jean Martinon/L’Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F. & Chorus (1973):

Jean Martinon, French conductor

Jean Martinon’s legendary EMI recording of Schmitt’s Psalm XLVII was preceded by a live performance that’s full of vigor and passion (1973).

This was the public performance that preceded Jean Martinon’s celebrated recording of the Psalm, released by EMI and still considered a touchstone recording by many music lovers 40 years on.

In the live performance, the huge pipe organ played by famed organist Gaston Litaize is missing, but the overall excitement level is incredibly high.

As in the EMI recording, the live performance features the dazzling soprano soloist Andréa Guiot.

This performance is also available from French Radio and Television, including as a high-res download.  (A low-res version is also available on YouTube.)

Eugene Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra + Mendelssohn Club Chorus (1977):

Eugene Ormandy

Eugene Ormandy conducted the Philadelphia premiere of Florent Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII in 1977, and also presented the piece in New York City with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mendelssohn Club Chorus the same weekend.

This concert performance, which also features soprano Kathryn Bouleyn, appears to have been very well-received by the audience — if the hearty applause heard at the end of the piece is any indication.

This performance has proven to be rather elusive over the years, but is currently available for purchase through the Music in the Mail website (Disco Archivia #748).

Those interested in investigating Maestro Ormandy’s approach to this work should definitely take action while the recording remains available.

Jean Fournet/Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra + Shinyu-kai Chorus (1992): 

Jean Fournet, French Conductor

Jean Fournet’s 1992 live concert performance of Psaume 47 is available on the Japanese Fontec label (FOCD 9249) — a highly effective reading.

The French conductor Jean Fournet was the music director of this Japanese orchestra for many years, during which time he programmed much French music including Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII and La Tragédie de Salomé.

This live concert performance of the Psalm, captured in 1992, has been issued commercially on Fontec, a Japanese CD label.

I consider it the most effective of these eleven live performances based on a combination of the interpretation, musical precision, and sound quality.  The CD recording is available for purchase from Fontec directly.

Jean Fournet/Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra + Chorus (1994):

Jean Fournet French conductor

Jean Fournet (1913-2008) (1967 photo)

In addition to performing Psaume XLVII in Japan, Maestro Fournet presented the piece in concert in other locales, notably in France and the Netherlands. His February 28, 1994 concert performance with the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Groot Omroepkoor is a tad slower and more stolid than his 1992 Tokyo interpretation, but still quite effective — and he’s given fine support from soprano Françoise Pollet, who also performed the piece with Marc Soustrot and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire at the Angers Festival in 1989.

The 1994 Fournet Netherlands performance has been uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed here.

Leon Botstein/American Symphony Orchestra + Bard Festival Chorale (2012):

Florent Schmitt: Psalm 47, Leon Botstein, American Symphony Orchestra, Bard Festival Chorale

Leon Botstein’s 2012 performance at the Bard Music Festival was the second time he programmed Schmitt’s Psalm 47 with the American Symphony Orchestra.

This live performances is the swiftest interpretation of the Psalm I’ve ever heard.  Perhaps as a result of this, there are a number of places in the the performance when the orchestra, chorus and soprano soloist aren’t quite in sync with one another, which will prove problematic for some listeners’ enjoyment of the musical presentation.

Maestro Botstein first performed this work with the ASO back in 1997 – a concert I was fortunate to attend.  That time he adopted a more “conventional” tempo, which I found more effective — and ultimately more successful.  Still, it’s good to have this 2012 rendition so readily available through Amazon.

Fabien Gabel/Orchestre National de France + Chœur de Radio-France (2022):

Fabien Gabel French conductor

“I must say that the Psaume « killed » me; I needed a week to recover!” — conductor Fabien Gabel

The newest live performance of Florent Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII may be the most satisfying one overall — not just beause of the fine interpretation and demonstration audio sound, but also because it’s the first performance of this music ever to be recorded on video.

I was present at the concert which happened on May 12, 2022 at Maison de la Radio in Paris, and can report that the performance so electrified the audience, its ovation practically prevented the musicians from departing the stage. The video, produced by France-Télévisions, captures all the excitement not only in the audiophile sonics, but also in beautiful filmography and camera angles that turn the performance into a feast for the eyes as well as an extraordinary aural experience.

The video of Maestro Gabel’s ONF performance can be accessed here.


Without doubt, Psaume XLVII is one of the most exhilarating choral works in the musical literature.  Hearing it in the “immediacy” of a live concert atmosphere makes the excitement even more palpable – which is why these dozen performances are so necessary to hear. Simply put, they’re glorious renditions. You’re missing out on something special if you don’t explore them.

6 thoughts on “Excitement on steroids: A dozen live concert recordings of Florent Schmitt’s blockbuster choral composition Psalm 47 (1904)

  1. Pingback: Psalm XLVII: Florent Schmitt’s Astounding Choral Masterpiece (1904) | Florent Schmitt

  2. Given the paucity of Schmitt recordings generally, perhaps you could also list, in a separate subheading, studio recordings of this wonderful piece, by conductors Georges Tzipine, Marek Janowski, Yan-Pascal Tortelier and Thierry Fischer?

  3. I have listened to all of these remarkable performances and believe that they all have their merits.

    Martinon and Inghelbrecht both have a strong amount of authenticity with their French forces, although the sound is less than ideal for such a spacious work as the Psaume.

    Fournet and his Japanese forces really impress me with their power, even with the strange-sounding French (!). I was surprised by the power and vigor of the performance from Fournet.

    I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed by the Botstein ASO performance mentioned above, with lower tension and excitement than I expected — which surprised me since I had first heard this work in a performance at Lincoln Center in New York City in 1997 done by the same forces (except the soloist that year was Korliss Uecker). That one was far more effective.

    • Thank you for these insightful observations. I agree with you about the 2012 Leon Botstein performance being less effective than the one he led at Lincoln Center in 1997.

      If you have heard it, would you care to comment on the Ormandy performance as well?

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