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Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Intermezzo, op.8 (1900) [6:37]
Scherzo, op.8 (1900) [6:34]

Julius BÜRGER (1887-1995)

Legende (orchestral song) (1919) [12:43]
Stille der Nacht (orchestral song) (1919) [10:15]

Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)

Sinfonie No.1, op.7 (1900) [36:45]

Dietrich Henschel (baritone)
Lucerne Symphony Orchestra/John Axelrod
rec. KKL Luzern Concert Hall, Switzerland, 4-5 July 2006
NIMBUS NI5808 [71:47]

Experience Classicsonline

"Franz Schreker and His Students" is the title of a Nimbus Records release with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, John Axelrod, and Dietrich Henschel. A promising title, if you know and like Schreker’s music – perhaps from the sick, sick, but equally enthralling and mesmerizing production, of his spectacular, gorgeous, riveting opera "Die Gezeichneten" (Kent Nagano conducting at the Salzburg Felsenreitschule, DVD available on EuroArts).

Schreker (1878-1934) might have become the epitome of daring 20th century romanticism – combining the lush sounds of late Richard Strauss with a more modern harmonic language (not unlike an offshoot of Debussy’s style) – had it not been first for the Third Reich, then the reaction to the Third Reich to crush his reputation. A student of Robert Fuchs - as were Gustav Mahler, Franz Schmidt, Hugo Wolf, and Alexander Zemlinsky - Schreker was, in his time, thought of as one of the most important composers during the early 20th century. His reputation - attained through his operas – was comparable to those of Mahler, Strauss, Debussy, Reger and Korngold.

At the height of his career, the causes of his future decline in popularity, esteem, and influence were already under way. Schoenberg’s music was just about, if slowly, getting a hold of critics and the academies … and Fascism was on the rise even before Schreker died in 1933 (after suffering a stroke), not yet 56 years old. First his music was declared "degenerate" and sexually depraved - an allegation hurled not only at the music but the composer as well. After the war his music was too conservative to please the modernists who wanted to cleanse music from all stains of the past.

Many of his later students suffered from a similar fate. Berthold Goldschmidt, Stefan Wolpe, and most importantly: Ernst Krenek (1900-1991). Krenek is included on this disc with his First Symphony (op.7) in nine short, continuous movements. A less well known representative of Schreker’s students, Julius Bürger (1897-1995, foremost a conductor like his fellow Schreker-student Jascha Horenstein), is included with two Songs for Baritone and Orchestra: "Legend" and "Silence of the Night" (not a Christmas song, but based on a Gottfried Keller poem).

Schreker himself is featured with two early works, the Intermezzo and Scherzo for string orchestra op.8 from 1900. They are less interesting pieces than most of what Schreker composed later, but worthy little buffers between the – also early, but major – works of Bürger and Krenek. Schreker wrote both of these rather conventional pieces for a competition (which Intermezzo won). The Scherzo remained unpublished for many years - the Intermezzo was combined with three more movements into the reasonably popular "Romantic Suite".

More attractive for the potential purchaser are the two 1919 Bürger works. These large-scale orchestral songs (each over 10 minutes long) offer so many inspired touches of orchestral coloration that one cannot but wonder if there is much more of his music available. As it turns out: not much – but a cello concerto looks appealing, having been made available by Toccata. The faux Arabian Nights melodies for the solo bassoon, the dashing and bold lines toward grand orchestral climaxes, and the terrific, searing performance by Dietrich Henschel make these youthful opera of Bürger’s most impressive upon repeat listening.

Krenek’s First Symphony isn’t exactly charming right off the bat. Much like his string quartets, the music benefits greatly from repeat exposure. And this 1921 symphony doesn’t offer any of the lusciously dense chromaticism that the name "Schreker" of the CD-title evokes. This nervously moving, restless symphonic work flirts with all the styles Krenek had encountered at age 21 – with atonalism as well gestures of the big late-romantic symphonies. And in that limited sense the work is quite unique. Krenek dutifully shows his enormous compositional skill in the work, not least with the large, bombastic Fugue just before the coyly concluding Presto. I haven’t heard Takao Ukigaya and the NDR SO-Hannover on their 1996 disc on CPO, but the performance of Lucerne Symphony Orchestra under its Texan music director John Axelrod suggests that it would take much more than just a casual effort to better this interpretation.

Jens F. Laurson


see also review by Gary Higginson





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