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Schmidt: Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln / Järvi, Chum, Holl, Trattnigg, Breedt, et al

Notes & Reviews:

Seen by many as Franz Scmidt's greatest work, 'Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln' ambitiously sets one of the most challenging texts, the 'Book of Revelation', to music. In his programme notes for the first performance of 'Das Buch', he commented on the mammoth challenge of setting the entire Apocalypse to music and said his priority 'was to bring the text into a form which retained everything important, wherever possible in the original wording, and yet reduce the immense dimensions of the work to a point where they could be grasped by ordinary human brains'. The result is this magnificent oratorio, here performed by the Tonkunstler Orchestra and starring Dutch bass-baritone Robert Holl.

BBC Music Magazine
Where this new version really trumps both the magisterial... Mitropoulos and the over-boxy... Harnoncourt is in the quality of the recording itself, excitingly atmospheric... and... throated choral singing and all-important brass. With Robert Holl a sympathetically soft-grained God and Johannes Chum a sweetly lyrical rather than heroically over-forced St John , this Book now stands as top choice.

Gramophone Classical Music Guide
Best known for his work with the left-field Absolute Ensemble, Kristjan Järvi might not be thought a natural exponent but there can be no doubting his conviction. He is abetted by a strong vocal line-up: Johannes Chum is a youthful and forthright St John who, though a little strained in his initial entry, exudes the right impulsiveness and awe; Robert Holl is eloquently authoritative as the Voice of the Lord; and with the remaining quartet well contrasted as soloists and finely balanced in ensemble. The Wiener Singverein lack nothing in either incisiveness or sensitivity, while the Tonkünstler Orchestra, if a mite undernourished in string sound, are more than equal to Schmidt's surprisingly wide-ranging demands.

Surprising in that this is a piece which marks a culmination within the Austro-German choral tradition and yet looks defiantly to its future - an aspect Järvi pointedly emphasises - whether in the stark expressive contrasts as the Seven Seals are opened, the powerful momentum unleashed by the Seven Trumpets, or the climactic 'Hallelujah' chorus whose grandeur is charged with a keen fervency.

More evocative than Franz Welser-Möst (EMI) but less theatrical than Nikolaus Harnoncourt (BMG), Järvi makes it the concert-drama Schmidt surely intended. SACD sound maximises its textural and dynamic extremes, but a pity that applause was retained at the end of disc 1. Even so, this could well be first choice for those new to the work.

Gramophone Magazine
More evocative than Franz Welser-Möst but less theatrical than Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Järvi makes it the concert-drama Schmidt surely intended. ... this could well be first choice for those new to the work.

Sunday Times
Jarvi conducts a well-played and sung account of the complex score, with fine contributions from Johannes Chum (St John), Robert Holl (Voice of a God, above), and a well-balanced quartet, although he can't quite match the evangelistic zeal of Mitropoulos on the live Salzburg recording, with Dermota, Güden, Wunderlich and Berry as incomparable soloists.

The Telegraph
When Franz Schmidt wrote his oratorio based on the Book of Revelation in the mid-1930s, it already sounded musically outdated, with its solidly Austro-Germanic contrapuntalism and nods to Bach, Handel and Bruckner. But, especially when performed with the vigour and bite of this new recording, one can forgive the work its backward-looking aspects and admire its musical glories. It was taped live at the Vienna Musikverein, but audience "participation" does not detract from the superbly communicative St John from Johannes Chum and Robert Holl's sonorous Voice of the Lord. Kristjan Järvi's account can certainly stand comparison with the Vienna Philharmonic rivals under Harnoncourt (Warner) and Mitropoulos (Sony)


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