Since its November 2020 release during Florent Schmitt’s 150th birthday anniversary year, the NAXOS recording of four orchestral works by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under its music director, JoAnn Falletta, has garnered critical acclaim the world over.
Moreover, the recording has been a commercial success, achieving the #2 sales position for NAXOS recordings in the months following its release.
Considering the large number of orchestral releases that hit the streets each month, it is indeed a noteworthy honor — and all the more so considering that it represents a French magazine recognizing a recording of French music made by an American conductor and an American orchestra.
No home-country advantage here!
In Diapason magazine’s review of the Florent Schmitt recording, writer and music critic François Laurent singled out Schmitt’s ballets La Tragédie de Salomé and Oriane et le Prince d’Amour, noting how effectively those colorful scores were brought to vibrant life by Maestra Falletta and the Buffalo musicians.
Mezzo-soprano Susan Platts was also praised for her artistic approach to the solo passages in La Tragédie de Salomé and, most especially, the rapturous orchestral song Musique sur l’eau, set to the poetry of Albert Samain.
For those who don’t read French, here is an English translation of François Laurent’s review:
Florent Schmitt remains, in the eyes of JoAnn Falletta, “the greatest French composer you’ve never heard of.” Hopefully this magnificent anthology will change the situation a bit. Continually deserting the Villa Medici for trips to Sweden or Morocco, Poland or Turkey, the ebullient 1900 Prix de Rome winner brought back a profusion of rhythms and colors, enshrined in his colossal scores.
La Tragédie de Salomé (1907), a ballet dedicated to his friend Stravinsky, would find its true dimensions three years later — those of a symphonic poem. Even as Schmitt cuts out three episodes to halve the performance time he also adds considerably to the orchestration. Whether it is for the amorous reveries entrusted to the English horn, the scintillations of the sea (harp and glockenspiel), or the thrills of the Danse des perles, the Buffalo forces deploy a rich palette, without ever overwhelming the erudite architecture or the juxtapositions of colors.
This clarity of texture lends a fascinating depth to Les Enchantments sur la mer (with its gentle murmuring of harps, triangle, strings and winds that are apostrophic), and to the solitary song of the mezzo, rising at first in the distance (and with pianissimo strings), then coming closer joined by a female choir. The frenzy and intense expression are here in abundance as well, whipped up by the lively gestures of the American conductor.
The 1918 Légende was intended (as was Debussy’s Rapsodie) for the saxophone of Elise Hall. Despite Nikki Chooi’s incisive playing, the alternate version for violin of this tormented piece loses something of the contrast.
Let us finish with two rarities. With a tight vibrato and meticulous French, Susan Platts captivates in Musique sur l’eau (1898), a melody whose voluptuous chromaticism — the languor sliding between the sky and the waves — perfectly captures the symbolism of Samain’s poem. “Nothing is sweet like agony / From lip to lip / In undefined music.”
Another enchantment is that of Oriane et le Prince d’Amour (1934-37), a ballet from which Falletta presents the concert suite all of apiece: knightly horns and fanfares, dissonant confessions juxtaposed against true love, exotic and menacing processions, and great virtuoso flights of winds leading to an exuberant conclusion. When will we have the complete ballet?
Four months following its release, the Falletta/BPO recording of Florent Schmitt’s music continues to receive critical accolades from all quarters. The recording is readily available from all online classical music outlets — Amazon, Presto Music, ArkivMusic, HBDirect, etc. — in physical or download form. In case you have yet to hear its stunning musical artistry, this recording is well-worth seeking out.