The music of Florent Schmitt deserves to be better known. Music that is exquisitely colored and seductively tuneful, with tempos ranging from languorous to frenzied, it strikes me as a cross between Rimsky-Korsakov and the Richard Strauss of Elektra and Die Frau ohne Schatten. There are 2 or 3 versions currently obtainable. The complete version of 1907, scored for small orchestra, may still be available on Marco Polo, with Patrick Davin conducting the Rheinland-Pfalz Philarhmonic. Collectors of Schmitt will want to obtain this recording, as it is the only one extant of the original version, containing 59 minutes of music.
In 1909, Schmitt rescored the music for full orchestra. More than half the original music is omitted, but what remains is more tautly constructed and intensely dramatic. The ballet is based on the Old Testament confrontation of Salome and John the Baptist, with the background destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah thrown in for good measure. Such themes call for music fragrant with the airs of the orient, lush and sensuous, building up in intensity to a pitch of frenzied decadence and climactic doom. And does Schmitt ever deliver! This is not music for the faint of heart. Paul Paray's performance with the Detroit Symphony on Mercury is well played and perfectly well-mannered, but fails to capture the mood. Janowski is spot on, evoking beautiful sounds from the French Radio Philharmonic, and maintaining a mood that is seething with sensuality and pulsating with depravity.
I have no basis of comparison of Janowski's performance of Psaume 47. The orchestral and choral forces are impressive and this apparently is a psalm of joy rather than contemplation, the element of spectacle far outweighing the element of devotion. Janowski pulls out all the stops, and at the end of the 26-minute piece, one is left with a feeling of exaltation. All told, the CD contains 52+ minutes of music. Many CDs today run well over an hour in length, but after listening to the whole CD of music of such intensity, I doubt anyone will feel short-changed. And at the bargain price, this is a must have for any lovers of French romantic music.