This is a re-issue of a disc issued by Marco Polo (8.220392)
in 1987 and offers greater access to the exploration of lesser known
Though born in Morocco, Franz Schreker adopted
Germany as his homeland having studied at the Conservatory in Vienna
where Robert Fuchs taught him composition. He achieved some early success,
his Love Song for string orchestra and harp being played in distant
London in 1896 when he was only 18, long before he had completed his
studies. Schreker soon turned his attention to opera (with an unsuccessful
Flammen, 1902) and ballet (a successful Der Geburtstag der
Infantin, 1912). He seemed keen to pursue the creativity offered
by theatre music and this is focus of the present CD. As with Wagner,
Schreker's music (or religion?) did not fit the mould required by Germany's
uprise of National Socialism in the early thirties and so any reputation
he might have earned was suppressed by Hitler. With this in mind perhaps
his strengths as a composer have been underestimated. Schreker's music
is powerful and he extracts good colour and texture from his orchestrations.
However much of the music we hear here lacks a good theme and although
these compositions may be competent they lack the emotional flow which
is so necessary to captivate the listener's interest. After a couple
of playings one comes nearer to appreciating the character of the music.
Although some of these overtures are intended to be symphonic, others,
expressly written as theatre music, are rather heavily scored to have
immediate impact on their audience, since they contribute to a visual
as well as an aural experience. Schreker has a tendency to move on to
new creative ideas before the previous one is cemented and properly
Ekkehard is an early symphonic piece
based on the widely-read 19th Century classic novel by Viktor
von Scheffel (1857) which tells of romance in South Germany in the 10th
Century. In the story, a monk, Ekkehard, of St Gall's monastery teaches
Latin to a duchess with whom he falls in love. This move is shunned
by the duchess who has him imprisoned, though he later escapes to live
thereafter as a hermit. The music loosely follows the chain of events,
commencing with medieval opening chords that reappear throughout the
piece. A recurring captivating march theme holds the piece together.
Turmoil is vividly portrayed before we end with a serene conclusion
elegantly played by the wind instruments. In this we are assured that
our hermit has found tranquil peace, if not love.
Fantastic overture is a grand title for
a piece that doesn't exactly provide orchestral fireworks or the energy
that might be imagined with such a title. With a gothic and dark opening
it does in fact gather momentum but despite the energy of a committed
orchestra and conductor to me it is emotionally thin, and tends to be
more of a damp squib of a piece. It is a serious work with an undercurrent
of minor key foreboding.
Der Schatzgräber (The Treasure
Seeker) is from an opera concerning German fairytale symbolism.
The symphonic Interlude (from Act III) which we are told, in
Keith Anderson's notes, is a night scene in which the moon disappears
to give complete darkness before dawn approaches. With an opening sense
of evil tension and stirring passages I find it difficult to follow
Schreker's portrayal of the visual scene. The piece ends after Dawn
has brought about a seemingly cheerful scene where the inn-keeper's
daughter bestows jewels (the treasure of the title) on a strolling singer.
The music here is no better matched than the night sequence and is hardly
likely to complement the staging as described: again it seems too heavily
orchestrated for such a purpose.
Die Gezeichneten (The Marked Ones)
is an opera with a dark plot regarding the tragedy surrounding a crippled
nobleman and seasoned seducer who are both in love with a nobleman's
daughter. The powerful music makes use of the lovers' themes and hints
at the style of Richard Strauss.
Das Spielwerk opens with men making a
funeral bier on which to carry a dead man. The sombre prelude accompanies
Perhaps the subject matter does not allow me to make
a positive judgement on Schreker's true musical output. The pieces here
all deal with principally dark topics and the material is not uplifting.
For an introductory disc on this composer it would have been sensible
to have provided a balance which includes some lighter pieces (if they
exist). In a couple of instances the brass tend not to be particularly
well focused but the performance is strong from the large Slovak orchestra
and is sensitively handled under Seipenbusch's baton.
The recording balance is good and the notes are adequate.