SCHMIDT Symphony No 2 STRAUSS Festival Prelude
This is the second recording of Schmidt’s Second Symphony to come my way this year after Semyon Bychkov’s luxuriously upholstered account with the Vienna Philharmonic on Sony. Both releases choose to couple the work with Strauss. For Bychkov it was the gentle Gemütlichkeit of the ‘Träumerei am Kamin’ interlude from Intermezzo. For Stefan Blunier and his Beethoven Orchester Bonn it’s the full‑blown pomp of the Festliches Praeludium (stirringly performed), premiered in October 1913, a matter of weeks before the Schmidt.
The coupling gives a clue to Blunier’s approach, which is more forthright and bold than Bychkov’s – impulsive and fiery, with a real sense of symphonic sweep. If Bychkov and his players communicate affection, Blunier and his (who already set down the Fourth for MDG at the beginning of the decade) offer something more like passionate engagement with the piece.
The result, though not always subtle, is undoubtedly exciting, and difficult to resist. The opening movement is properly Lebhaft (and listen the warmth in the violins’ yearning melody at 11'53"). There’s a real sense of Schwung in the remarkable, dizzying last couple of minutes of the finale and a fine sense of flow in the tricky Allegretto con variazioni.
But while this performance, captured live, is persuasive as a big picture, a closer listen reveals a little roughness around the edges. There’s a slight lack of security in all the weaving filigree that is such a feature of the first movement, compared at least to the Vienna Philharmonic’s polish, and some raggedness elsewhere – in Variation 7 in the second movement, for example. Higher-lying lines in general have something of the tightrope walk about them.
That will bother some more than others in what’s nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable performance, situated somewhere between Bychkov’s mellow refinement and the brassy thrills of Neeme Järvi’s Chicago account; it feels closest, in fact, to Vassily Sinaisky’s Malmö recording on Naxos. The engineering, I should add, is rich and seductive.