French composer Florent Schmitt, a part of Ravel's Les Apaches group around 1900, has received renewed attention from recording companies, and this release is part of a group of Schmitt discs from Chandos, which has the engineering chops to handle their bulk. The suites from Antoine et Cléopâtre here were part of the music written for a six-hour ballet commissioned by dancer Ida Rubinstein. They could be taken for Ravel but are thickened by Straussian harmonies and dense orchestration expertly handled by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo. The orchestration is probably the most distinctive feature of the music; there aren't, as there are with Ravel or Strauss, tunes you immediately remember, but the sheer well-wrought quality of the music keeps it absorbing. The Symphony No. 2, Op. 137, has the distinction of having been written when Schmitt was 87 years old. It's a collection of episodes not far in style from the Antoine et Cléopâtre suites, rather than a true symphony, but it shares the virtues of the earlier work. The Chandos engineering team, working in the Watford Coliseum, achieves a kind of lush but transparent wash that serves the music very well. Recommended for devotees of French musical Impressionism.
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