Franz Schmidt's exhuberant and deliriously life-affirming 2nd Symphony has finally begun to achieve some degree of recognition among enthusiasts of the early 20th-century Austro-Germanic repertoire. It's about time! For many years, the only way to hear this work was on a mid 70's LP import....a live performance by the Austrian Radio Orchestra conducted by Milan Horvat. I still have my carefully-preserved copy somewhere, for old time's sake. Fast forward to spring of 1989, when then-president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Henry Fogel was on the verge of realizing one of his life-long dreams: bestowing upon the musical world a brand new, state-of-the-art recording of the Schmidt 2nd, finally being played by an orchestra up to the task of this extremely demanding music (the string writing in the first movement's jolly, bustling toccata-like main theme is regarded as among the most difficult in the repertoire).
Mr Fogel had a long and turbulent association with the Schmidt 2nd. In the 1960's, as executive director of the Syracuse Symphony, he had worked for the better part of the decade to record the work with the orchestra's music director, Karl Kritz. By 1969, all agreed that the players were ready to tackle the work in performance AND record it for ABC/Westminster Records. After the final rehearsal, Maestro Kritz had begun to feel ill; he conducted the Friday night performance but, tragically, passed away before the 2nd and final performance. The recording project was scrapped.
Again we fast forward to Mr Fogel's tenure with the Chicago Symphony. Sometime during the late 80's, he had convinced Erich Leinsdorf to conduct the work with the CSO but, for reasons which have escaped me, the performances of the Schmidt 2nd--which had been officially announced in the CSO's season materials--were cancelled.
But Henry Fogel, clearly a man on a mission, then convinced Neeme Jarvi to conduct and record the work for Deutsche Grammophone in April of 1989. Everything was now in place for the great event...well, ALMOST everything (and this is where I stumbled into the picture). When I found out about the plan to record the Schmidt in concert, I called Henry Fogel and left my name and the reason for the call; I still recall his first words when he called back: "And how is the only other person in Chicago who has ever heard of the Schmidt 2nd Symphony?" And even though the enthusiasm was running high, there was trouble a-brewin': the CSO was $20K short in terms of financing for the project, and Henry was forced to cancel the deal with DGG. All appeared lost until....to make a long story short...the $ was procurred from a private philanthropic foundation in Chicago, and Henry was able, at the very last minute, to make arrangements with Chandos to come in and record the live performances, using the expert services of the CSO's own in-house engineer, Mitchell Heller. I was there for the rehearsal and concerts (the program consisted of the Corigliano "Pied Piper" Fantasy w/Galway on the first half and the Schmidt after intermission), and the orchestra had a great time discovering and playing the heck out of this most challenging, neglected but JOYOUS work!
My only complaint about the recording is the fact that, in the final mastering, the overall volume level is WAY too low; you really have to crank it up to begin to appreciate the true glory of this great occasion. But in the end, Mr. Fogel's perseverance and belief in this wonderful symphony paid off. And now that you know "the rest of the story"..make sure and acquire the small piece of musical history that is encapsulated in this CD!