JoAnn Falletta and the BPO Orchestra and BPO Chorus were on a hot streak in March. Their recording of Richard Danielpour’s dramatic oratorio The Passion of Yeshua was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Choral Performance, and Best Engineered Album. Conductor Falletta and chorus masters James K. Bass and Adam Luebke took home the Grammy for Best Choral Performance, making it the third Grammy Falletta has earned conducting the BPO.
A week before the Grammy Awards, the BPO’s November Naxos release, La Tragédie de Salomé, featuring French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) won the coveted Diapason d’Or for orchestral recordings in the March 2021 issue of Diapason magazine. Reviewer François Laurent wrote, “Florent Schmitt remains, in the eyes of JoAnn Falletta, ‘the greatest French composer you’ve never heard of.’ Hopefully, this magnificent anthology will change the situation a bit.” The recording has been a commercial success, achieving the number two sales position for Naxos in the months following its release.
Like Falletta’s first CD (2015) of Schmitt's music, which featured two suites of music from the ballet Antoine and Cléopâtre, the CD’s title work is a tone poem drawn from music for a ballet, as is the suite from the ballet Oriane et le Prince d’Amour, another work on the CD. When Schmitt won the Prix de Rome in 1900, the French government’s top music award that grants a fifteen-month stay at the Villa Medici in Rome, he turned it into a four-year adventure, traveling throughout the Mediterranean region visiting Corsica, Spain, Greece, Morocco, and the Near East, absorbing the exotic colors, sights, rhythms, and flavors that would serve him well during the composing of his ballets' musical scores. “I love Salome,” says Falletta, “I think it’s Schmitt’s masterpiece.”
The suite from Oriane is one of two world premiere recordings on the CD, and Falletta notes that it gave her the opportunity to focus entirely on the score and conduct a work without an established performance tradition. “What’s included in the Oriane Suite is very dramatic music and very passionate and mysterious, too,” she says. “Whether you know the storyline or not, listeners get a great sense of drama from the suite. Schmitt has selected very brilliant moments from the ballet, but these are interspersed with very tender, yearning passages as well.”
The other world premiere included is Légende, the version for violin and orchestra transposed by the composer from his original version for saxophone, which was commissioned by the wealthy Boston socialite, Elsie Hall, who played the sax for reasons of health. Hall also commissioned Debussy’s Rhapsodie for Saxophone, among other works. “I prefer this version for violin,” says Falletta, “particularly as interpreted by our BPO concertmaster Nikki Chooi, since it brings out the special ability of the violin to get very down and deep-throated, and to range into the stratosphere in high harmonics, as opposed to the more mellifluous sound of the saxophone.”
Rounding out the disc, rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Susan Platts entices the ear in Musique sur l’eau, a voluptuously melodic 1898 setting of a symbolist poem by Albert Samain. “We recorded Oriane and Légende during our last pair of concerts before a live audience in Kleinhans, the weekend before the lockdown began last March,” says Falletta, “It meant a lot to all of us to be able to complete work on these recordings at that time, and it is especially gratifying that our CD has been so well received.”
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