Schmidt sym4 50262

Franz Schmidt (1874-1939)
Symphony No. 4 in C Major (1933)
Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (The Book with Seven Seals) (1937)
John: Julius Patzak (tenor); Voice of the Lord: Otto Wiener (bass)
Hanny Steffek (soprano); Hertha Töpper (alto); Erich Majkut (tenor); Frederick Guthrie (bass)
Franz Illenberger (organ)
Graz Cathedral Choir
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Anton Lippe
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Moralt (symphony)
rec. 7 September 1954, Musikverein, Vienna (symphony: mono); January 1962, Stefaniensaal, Graz (Book: stereo)
Somm Recordings Ariadne 5026-2 [2 CDs: 157]

The year 2024 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Franz Schmidt. The recording companies have taken notice. Here are the recent releases: Jonathan Berman’s set of the four symphonies; two versions of the B-flat major piano/clarinet quintet; a piano album (review); and a reissue of the only recording of Schmidt’s second opera Fredigundis (review). Now, SOMM has gone back to the beginning, as it were, with splendid restorations of the first recordings of Symphony No. 4 and the great oratorio The Book with Seven Seals.

Rudolf Moralt was a regular conductor at the Vienna State Opera in the 1940s, and one of the chief conductors of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra from 1940 until his death in 1958. I expect that I am not the only one introduced to Franz Schmidt’s music by Moralt’s recording of the Symphony No. 4. His conception of the symphony is comprehensive from beginning to end, with the sense of inevitability Schmidt surely had in mind. Especially praiseworthy is his handling of the slow movement, with its crucial cello solo (Schmidt’s instrument), in some ways the emotional heart of the work. Readers may know musician, annotator and engineer Lani Spahr as a brilliant restorer of vintage recordings (review ~ review). His work on this symphony is no exception. With his sonic improvements, Moralt’s version is restored to the front rank of desirable recordings of the Fourth.

Lani Spahr also works his magic on this 1962 performance of The Book with Seven Seals, an even more impressive restoration given the large forces involved. In addition to Anton Lippe’s fine conducting and the signers’ fine work, there is an element of authenticity to this recording. Lippe and tenor Julius Patzak had studied composition with Schmidt. After Lippe became music director at Graz Cathedral, he established a tradition of annual performances of The Book with Seven Seals. His conception of the piece is gentler than some of the later versions, although the big moments do not lack for impressiveness. Patzak sang the role of St. John many times, and is the perfect exemplar of the role. Otto Weiner, a singer with Graz affiliations, sings the role of the Voice of the Lord most imaginatively. The quartet of singers who enact various roles in the oratorio comprise as expert a group for this type of music as one could have found in the 1960s. Their singing as the Four Beasts around the throne of the Lord – on track 8 of CD1 – is one of the most wonderful moments here, as is the marvelous string playing on track 9 of CD2. But above all, there is Patzak’s depth and variety of emotion on tracks 10-13 of CD2.

While many people might prefer more recent recordings, any fan of Schmidt will want Spahr’s restorations of these performances. A whole musical era is brought to life in these recordings. Not to be missed.

William Kreindler

Previous reviews: Stephen Greenbank (May 2024) ~ John Quinn (June 2024)

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