Schmitt – Antoine et Cléopâtre

Up until about 1940, Florent Schmitt was one of most frequently-performed living French composers. Although his music virtually disappeared from the repertoire after the Second World War, recent recordings (like this one) have helped a new generation rediscover this remarkable composer.

The two orchestral suites Florent Schmitt extracted from his 1920 musique de scène “Antoine et Cléopâtre” are, to my ears, music of their time. But that’s not a bad thing. Although these extracts were originally intended for ballet dancers, they work very well as stand-alone concert works.

Schmitt was a friend of Ravel, and I could hear some echoes of “Daphnis et Chloé” in this impressionistic score. Also present was the overripe exoticism of Richard Strauss’ “Salome.” Schmitt was a master orchestrator and his music sets the stage, with tinkling percussion and sinuous double reed solos.

If you enjoy Debussy’s “La Mer,” or the Ravel and Strauss works I mentioned earlier, you’ll probably find much to like in the “Antoine et Cléopâtre” suites.

This release also includes Schmitt’s “Le Palais hanté,” an Étude symphonique based, according to the title, on Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “The Haunted Palace.” Actually, it’s based on Stéphane Mallarmé’s translation of Poe’s poem, which is quite a different thing. Mallarmé tended to reinterpret rather than do word-for-word translations. The 1904 work is impressionistic and simply flows from idea to idea, paralleling the lines of the poem.

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra perform well, although I sometimes felt the recorded sound of the full ensemble a little too clean. In my opinion, impressionist works sound best when the sound’s a little soft around the edges. Overall, though, another wonderful performance by Falletta and the BPO.

Florent Schmitt: Antoine et Cléopâtre, Op. 69a and 69b; Le Palais hanté Op. 49
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta

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