“It’s the sensuality — as well as the expressive power borne from Florent Schmitt’s exceptional mastery of massed musical forces and contrasts …”
— Jean-Luc Tingaud, French Orchestral and Operatic Conductor
This month, French conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud will be leading the first-ever concert performances of Florent Schmitt’s blockbuster choral work Psaume XLVII in Poland, conducting the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus along with soprano Ewa Biegas in concerts on February 19 and 20.
The music program, which also features another noteworthy French choral work (Psyché by César Franck), is a dream come true for Maestro Tingaud, a musician who, despite having a well-earned reputation as an opera conductor, harbors a deep love for French symphonic music as well.
In recent years, Maestro Tingaud’s orchestral programs have included lesser-known music of French composers such as Édouard Lalo, Emmanuel Chabrier, Théodore Dubois, Albert Roussel and his own teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, Manuel Rosenthal.
In addition, the NAXOS label has recorded the conductor in the music of Georges Bizet and Paul Dukas with the RTE National Orchestra of Ireland. A soon-to-be-released NAXOS disk will feature the music of Vincent d’Indy.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Maestro Tingaud to share his thoughts about the music of Florent Schmitt, and particularly about Psaume XLVII. (His observations below are translated from French into English.)
PLN: When did you first become familiar with the music of Florent Schmitt?
J-LT: Like many people, the first piece by Florent Schmitt I came to know was La Tragédie de Salomé, thanks to my teacher, Manuel Rosenthal, who had conducted this music with the Orchestre National de France when he was music director there.
PLN: What attracted you to the music of Schmitt? What particular aspects of his musical language are the most meaningful to you?
J-LT: It’s the sensuality — as well as the expressive power borne from Florent Schmitt’s exceptional mastery of massed musical forces and contrasts. It’s also the vivid colors of the orchestration along with the singularity of his rhythmic writing.
PLN: Some people characterize the musical style of Schmitt as similar to Debussy, Ravel and other Impressionist composers. How is Schmitt’s music similar to, or different from those composers?
It’s actually quite different, in my opinion. Debussy and Ravel are bright suns around which other composers such as André Caplet and Maurice Delage orbited. This is not the case with Schmitt. If one were to compare his style with another’s, it would be closer to Richard Strauss.
If forced to tie Schmitt to any artistic movement, I would most likely associate him with Symbolism.
PLN: Is Krakow the first place where you have conducted Psaume XLVII?
J-LT: Yes, this is the first time I will direct the Psalm. It is to the credit of the Krakow Philharmonic and their confidence in me that they gave me carte blanche for this program.
I consider the piece to be a major work in the repertoire for choir and orchestra, and I have always wanted to present it in concert.
PLN: Some conductors find that French choral music is particularly challenging to perform — not only because of the language but because the French musical style is somehow difficult to “capture.” What are your thoughts on this?
J-LT: I am well-familiar with the chorus we are using in the Krakow concerts — and in fact I have directed French music with them already, so they know my expectations.
Indeed, they are excellent, and their preparation by choir director Teresa Majka-Pacanek is absolute perfection — especially for singing in the French language. So for these upcoming concerts I have no concerns — particularly for a work that is as well-written as the Psalm.
Thankfully too, Florent Schmitt values all voices in the choir, resulting in some very compelling and spectacular writing for the chorus.
PLN: You have chosen to include another choral work in this concert that is rarely performed: César Franck’s Psyché. What was the “strategy” behind the creation of a program anchored by these two works?
J-LT: It was my idea to present these two contrasting pieces because they are complementary to the senses. Psyché is a symphonic poem in which the chorus is but one element among others — like we encounter in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé or in Debussy’s Nocturnes. The Franck is very evocative, sensitive and refined music. As it forms the first part of the program, it will provide a nice musical contrast for the audience before the splashy and spectacular shock of the Psalm.
PLN: Do you have future plans to conduct Psaume XLVII elsewhere after Krakow?
J-LT: I would like to — very much, and as soon as possible! It is a piece that I am putting in my active repertoire and will be promoting as much as I can.
PLN: What upcoming recording projects or concerts do you have on your calendar that are particularly noteworthy?
J-LT: In March I will be in Parma, Italy with Anna-Caterina Antonacci and the Filharmonica Toscanini, presenting La Voix humaine by Poulenc. A few months later my newest recording for NAXOS will be released, featuring the music of Vincent d’Indy including Istar and Symphony No. 2.
Early next season, you’ll find me in London and on tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in concerts that will feature the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony.
PLN: Are there any additional comments you would like to share about Florent Schmitt and his Psaume XLVII?
J-LT: Just this: I would encourage anyone near to Krakow to come listen to this music live in concert. It will be a “physical” experience where the spectacularly vibrant music will transport the listener — and do it in a way not possible besides experiencing it in person. I truly believe that for anyone hearing the Psalm in concert, it will be an unforgettable event — a memory that will last a lifetime.
Besides, Krakow is such a beautiful city … !
Having been fortunate to see Psalm 47 in concert twice myself, I can personally attest to Maestro Tingaud’s contention that no recording — no matter how great — can measure up to the viscerally exciting experience of hearing the piece performed live.
Anyone located within 500 kilometers of Krakow should jump at the chance to attend what promises to be a most memorable concert, brought to life by a consummate musical artist who clearly believes in the music and is driven to share that passion with concert-goers.
Details on the February Krakow performances plus ticket information can be viewed here.
… And for anyone able to attend one of the performances, if you would care to share your observations about the concert, please leave a comment below for the benefit of other readers.