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Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
The Complete Surviving Recordings of Schreker conducting

The Birthday of the Infanta Suite (1908 revised 1923) – two recordings
Orchestra of the Berlin State Opera, recorded c.1924 and c.1927
Ein Rokoko-Tanzspiel (1908 revised 1920)
Orchestra of the Staatskapelle Berlin, recorded 1926
Kleine Suite für Kammerorchester (1929)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded 1932
Der Ferne Klang (1912) – Waldszene and nächtlicher Reigen (Act I)
Maria Schreker (soprano)/Berlin Staatskapelle, recorded 1927
Das Spielwerk (1929) Scene der liese Sei ruhig Alter
Maria Schreker (soprano), Charles Kullmann (tenor)
Reichs-Rundfunk, Berlin, recorded 1932
Die Gezeichneten (1918) Und wenn’s mehr ware
Maria Schreker (soprano)/Orchestra of the Staatsoper, Berlin, recorded 1928
Der Schatzgräber (1920) – Wiegenlied; Klein war ich noch
Maria Schreker (soprano)/Orchestra of the Staatsoper, Berlin, recorded 1927
Der Schatzgräber (1920) – Act III Nachtgesang and Zwischenspiel
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded 1923

Der rote Sarafin (Russian Folk Song)

Russisches Wiegenlied

Maria Schrecker (soprano)/Orchestra, recorded 1930
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Peer Gynt Suite
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded 1932
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

L’Arlésienne –orchestral suite No.1 arranged Bizet
L’Arlésienne –orchestral suite No.2 arranged Guiraud
Orchestra of the Staatsoper Berlin, recorded 1926
L’Arlésienne –orchestral suite No.1 arranged Bizet
L’Arlésienne –orchestral suite No.2 arranged Guiraud
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded 1928
All items conducted by Franz Schreker
SYMPOSIUM 1271-1273 [3 CDs: 70.59 + 66.52 + 69.22]


This is a set of some historical importance. It collates all Franz Schreker’s known recordings, which were made over the period of a decade, between 1923 and 1933. The whole enterprise has been assisted by the Franz Schreker Foundation and a large number of copies have come from the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings – a guarantee of quality originals. There are also previously unpublished sides – one provided by the conductor Adriano – which only enhances the desirability of the three discs, which are incidentally sold for the price of two. As if this wasn’t enough there’s a fine booklet essay by the Foundation’s director, Christopher Hailey, and some well-reproduced photographs of the composer/conductor and his glamorous wife (and equally glamorous motorcar, a Hoch 450 Cabriolet, which comes complete with specifications in the notes).

There are two recordings of The Birthday of the Infanta Suite, in its 1923 version. The earlier was a late acoustic probably made in 1924 and issued very early in 1925. The remake, under early electric conditions, followed in (provisionally dated to) 1927. This was a similar situation to Holst’s recordings of his Planets Suite. There are inevitable compromises in the acoustic recording. The orchestra sounds relatively spartan, there are audible bass reinforcements and a high ration of surface noise. Subtleties of orchestration don’t really register with any great impact and the sound, though not bad for a late acoustic, is compressed. The later recording is an improvement in every respect; the orchestra is stronger and more secure, and whilst there is surface noise of course, extension of higher frequencies are welcome. It’s worthwhile paying attention to Schreker’s affectionate pointing of The Marionettes at daringly reduced dynamic levels (something the acoustic couldn’t cope with) and the way he so richly characterises the Dance of the Dwarves – supple winds, well judged pauses and the like. That Schreker had few problems in rousing drama can be heard in the eighth track, Im rotten Gewand in Herbst, which is rousing and full of subtle excitement.

Another of Shreker’s pantomimes, Ein Rokoko-Tanzspiel, is here played by a rather hit-and-miss orchestra. But it’s entertaining to hear the perky winds in the Minuet contend with the big low bass though it still sounds as if some form of bass reinforcement was needed in these early electrics Nevertheless more than a little of the sheer romantic effulgence of the Madrigal gets across the grooves and even the Gavotte survives the palm court swooning. Something of a contrast is the 1932 Kleine Suite played by the Berlin Philharmonic. Not only is the sound quality far better than one has experienced before but we can hear the re-jigged version of the Suite prepared for the recording. This includes a – happily – very audible piano part in the grotesqueries of the opening March, the sinuous attractions of the Canon, the insistence of the Intermezzo and the fine brass calls in the concluding Capriccio.

The second disc offers a more partial and almost exclusively vocal slant on Schreker’s music and introduces us to the voice of his wife, Maria. She had a rather short operatic career and the voice was a small instrument, not so resonant, but well modulated and capable of considerable character. She sings in a 1927 sliver from Der Ferne Klang and then joins Charles Kullmann for a preserved 1932 radio broadcast (just under five minutes in length) in a snippet from Das Spielwerk. This has been preserved in terrifically good sound and one can appreciate her rather better here than in some of her more constricted and vocally covered commercial discs. The voice here is far more open and penetrating than it is, for example, in the unissued 1928 disc of an aria from Die Gezeichneten. These rare survivals are an especially pleasing aspect of the release as is the Act III music from the same work and the 1927 unissued Wiegenlied from Der Schatzgräber which Maria Schrecker sings with fully vested romanticism. Completists will note that a couple of folk songs, suing by her, are also included – one by Irving Berlin. To conclude the miscellaneous nature of disc two we have our first glimpse at Schrecker conducing music other than his own – something for which he was greatly esteemed as indeed he was for his commercial recordings in respect of his marshalling of the forces at his disposal and his command of colour and nuance. Grieg’s Peer Gynt may seem unpromising material for him but he actually proves an adept – if occasionally a sometimes bluff - one.

The third and final disc is given over to his two attempts at Bizet’s L’Arlésienne – both suites. Both these were commercial recordings but it was clearly felt that the earlier set had been superseded by technology because there was only a two-year gap between recordings, the earlier with the Staatsoper, and the later with the Berlin Philharmonic. There’s quite a deal of shellac hiss with the 1926 set and the orchestra is patently inferior to the Philharmonic, who were so soon to record it. Even so in 1928 there are still moments where distant recording caused problems – try the Prelude to the Suite No.1 in the 1928 recording. Back in 1926 the orchestra also seems predicated at least on a quasi-acoustic set up, and the band sounds reduced in numbers. Turn to the second suite’s Intermezzo to confirm the greater range of subtleties and colour forged from the 1928 recording – real finesse and a good ear for internal balance, and no hell for leather over-dynamism anywhere at all.

So all in all, an important and well-documented set. It gives us the opportunity to encounter Schrecker in the round, to appreciate his conductorial strengths and priorities, and to be enriched by the recordings he has left to posterity – both of his own music and that of Grieg and Bizet.

Jonathan Woolf


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