On the evening of May 12, 2022, an unforgettable performance of Florent Schmitt’s monumental Psaume XLVII, Op. 38 was presented at Maison de la Radio in Paris. For those of us who were lucky enough to attend the concert, it was a performance that will long stay in our memories — so fine was the committed playing of the musicians.
Among the nearly 200 people on stage for the Psaume were the following performers:
- Orchestre National de France
- Chœur de Radio-France (Martina Batič, director)
- Marie Perbost, soprano
- Luc Héry, violinist
- Karol Mossakowski, organist
- Fabien Gabel, conductor
Here’s good news: For those music-lovers who could not attend the concert, the next-best thing is now available. For the first time ever, a live performance of Psalm 47 has been captured not just in audio, but also on film.
That video has just been released by France Télévisions for all to enjoy.
Having now viewed the video, I can report that it is magnificent — replete with endlessly interesting camera shots of the musicians delivering a terrifically exciting performance of the Psaume.
Maestro Gabel, who first performed this piece in 2019 in Québec City, has turned in a stunning interpretation that attests to his complete mastery of the score. In his efforts, Gabel is ably supported by the ravishing soprano solo of Marie Perbost, the full-bodied sound of the Radio-France Chorus, and the consummate artistry and near-flawless playing of the orchestral musicians.
Experiencing the ONF performance live in concert, I was reminded of these telling words from Le Monde music critic René Dumesnil written more than a half-century ago:
“Regarding the Psaume, what can we say that hasn’t already been said a hundred times? Each new hearing increases the reasons we have to admire it — and to love it. Years go by without depriving this musical monument of its nobility and power. On the contrary, it seems to shine with brighter radiance than when it was new.”
Closer to our own day, the great chef d’orchestre Manuel Rosenthal would say these words to his students:
“If you conduct just one French choral work in your career, it should be this Psalm.”
With the passage of more than a century’s time since the Psalm’s creation in 1904, it is easier than ever to recognize the piece’s artistic significance — and to understand why Florent Schmitt was declared “The New Berlioz” by the musical press when the work was premiered at the Paris Conservatoire two days after Christmas in 1906.
Of course, critics will say what critics say; in the end, it’s how the music sounds that counts most. On top of that, there’s something extra-special in seeing as well as hearing a performance of Psaume XLVII. Those of us who were privileged to be at the May 12th concert were treated to an unforgettable personal experience. Here’s what one attendee, the pianist Bruno Belthoise, wrote afterwards:
“Though some may dispute it, in the firmament of the greatest French composers lies Florent Schmitt: This has been my firm belief for more than 30 years. Between the Requiem of Berlioz and the mystical dimensions of the Turangalîla-Symphonie of Messiaen, Schmitt’s Psaume XLVII unfolds an extraordinarily expressive palette — grandiose, striking, moving, and deeply human. This music reaches to the deepest recesses of the soul; it is at once violent, tender, jubilant, sublime …
For those who have never heard the piece, it will come as a shock — its science of orchestration and development reaching new pinnacles. Florent Schmitt was a composer who knew best how to make the orchestra and voices vibrate with such magnitude and such colors. But going beyond its purely orchestral, vocal and formal dimensions, Psaume XLVII is a work through which the intimacy of feeling — and the deep compassion that is expressed — reaches a symbolic force that unites men and women beyond time.
The Orchestre National de France, Chœur de Radio-France and soprano Marie Perbost under the direction of Fabien Gabel have given us a masterful interpretation …”
And now, thanks to the new France Télévisions video, the next best thing to being present in the auditorium is available to everyone. To see and hear the performance for yourself, click here to access the ONF’s Psaume XLVII video — and get ready for the thrill of a lifetime.