Florent Schmitt Symphony No. 2 “busy for everyone”

Florent Schmitt extracted two orchestral suites from his ballet “Antoine et Cléopâtre.” Stylistically, the score bears a strong resemblance to Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” (also from a ballet). The touches of orientalism and sometimes gooey harmonies remind me more of Richard Strauss’ “Salome.”

Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony seem to relish the rich texture of the score. The music seems to slide sensually from one section to the next. The sound of the ensemble seems in soft focus at times — not because of the recording, but by their phrasing and articulation.

Schmitt was in his 80s when he completed his Symphony No. 2. The work may have been written in 1957, but it’s not quite of its time. The three-movement work is loosely tonal, with a somewhat impressionist character.

In an interview Sakari Oramo said, “[The symphony] is really exuberant — very, very inventive, and incredibly busy for everyone.”

And how. Complex cross-rhythms, unusual instrumental combinations, and a battery of percussion keep things moving. Contemporaries writing at the premiere of the work talk about its exuberance and youthful energy.

Oramo takes a more measured approach, with the energy dialed back a little. It’s still an interesting performance, just a more serious take on the music than perhaps the composer intended.

Schmitt was all about timbre and orchestral color. I recommend getting this release in the highest audio resolution you can. The more detail you can hear, the better.

Florent Schmitt: “Antoine et Cléopâtre” Suites; Symphony No. 2
BBC Symphony Orchestra; Sakari Oramo, conductor
Chandos CHSA 5200

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