The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Stanislas Quartet, Christian Ivaldi (piano)
Composer: Schmitt

One of Fauré’s most distinguished pupils, Florent Schmitt (1870–1958) was in many ways the ‘missing link’ in post-Romantic French music. Like his great teacher, Schmitt was not given to wearing his heart on his sleeve, which lends his music a noble sense of proportion during even the most heated of climaxes. At the same time he was prone to generous washes of the kind of exotic, chromatically intensified harmonies that so appealed to the post-Wagnerian wing of French composers, as encapsulated in the chamber music of Chausson and Franck. There are superheated, piano-saturated climaxes in Schmitt’s Quintet to make those of Brahms and Franck seem almost tame by comparison. Temporally expansive yet strangely concise in terms of its musical patterning, the three movements of this epic chamber work weigh in at around 20, 14 and 21 minutes respectively.

Christian Ivaldi and the Stanislas Quartet play this score with a sweeping passion that carries all before it. Ivaldi takes even the thorniest of rapid repeated-note passages in his stride, while the Stanislas players ensure that no emotional stone is left unturned. The recording fails to expand ideally when Schmitt goes into overdrive, and there’s the occasional patch of slightly wayward intonation, but not enough to dim the electrifying zeal of the performance as a whole.  

The four (short) pieces that make up Hasards (1939) form another fascinating musical amalgam, this time fusing Schmitt’s naturally Romantic temperament with 1920s Parisian neo-Classicism. The result is a tour de force of musical enchantment brought sparklingly to life in this devoted performance.