> SCHREKER Overtutres and Incidental Music 8.555246 [RW]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Overtures and Incidental music
Ekkehard Overture (1902)
Fantastic Overture (1903)
Der Schatzgräber: Act 3 Interlude (c.1915)
Die Gezeichneten: Prelude (1914)
Das Spielwerk: Prelude (1932)
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Edgar Seipenbusch
Rec. Slovak Philharmonic Concert Hall, Prague, Czech Republic 1986-7
NAXOS 8.555246 [51.05]


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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 European composers.

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 developed.

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 this undertaking.

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.

Raymond Walker


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