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Bratislava-born, Vienna-domiciled Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) is barely known in the UK, save by vague reputation as a disciple of Bruckner and Reger. He wrote much music for one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, and this two-disc Pan Classics album, recorded in 1995-1999 but only now released, contains a lot of it.

These are big pieces: the Concerto’s first movement alone is longer than the whole Ravel D major. The idiom is rooted in 19th-century vocabulary, though with novel use of variation and fugue forms. It demands attentive listening: fast and frequent modulations risk leaving us behind. The solo part is ingenious, always taxing and sometimes – as in the third movement cadenza – covering the full range of the piano in the Ravel manner.

The 43-minute Concerto makes for a serious start: new listeners may prefer the (half-hour) Concertante Variations on the scherzo from Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata. Schmidt embraces the basic frivolity of the original tune, sometimes approaching Dohnányi’s similar Nursery Variations in laugh-out-loud potential.

The G major Quintet (not D major, as on the box) reverts to seriousness, and – at 38 minutes – solidity. Soloist Karl-Andreas Kolly is indefatigable. Meanly, perhaps, there is not a word about him in the booklet; neither are the Sarastro Quartet players named. The youth orchestras accompany well. Oddly, given that there are two more Schmidt quintets and a solo Toccata, also written for Wittgenstein, the fourth piece here is instead purely orchestral, a transcription of a 26-minute Chaconne for organ. Maybe Pan will bring out the remaining Wittgenstein commissions later.

MICHAEL ROUND Read the full review on Agora Classica


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