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Franz Schreker and Pupils
Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934) Intermezzo Op. 8 for strings;(1902) [6.37]; Scherzo Op. 8 for strings (1902) [6.34]
Julius BŰRGER (1897-1995) Two Songs for baritone and orchestra (1919): Legend [12.43]; Silence of the night [10.45]
Ernst KŘENEK (1900-1991) Symphony No. 1 Op. 7 (1921) [35:36]
Dietrich Henschel (baritone)
Luzerner Sinfonieorchester/John Axelrod
rec. KKL Luzern, Konzertsaal, 4-5 July 2006. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5808 [71:48]



Franz Schreker was quite an influential teacher and musician but somehow has been overlooked by musical history in favour of Schoenberg and his more famous pupils.

At first, due to the success of his opera ‘Der ferne klang’ (1903-10) Schreker was offered a teaching position at the Vienna Conservatoire when his teacher Robert Fuchs retired. After WW1 he moved to the more artistically exciting Berlin and took his pupils with him: Křenek, Bürger, Karol Rathaus, Alois Hába plus several others, such was their devotion. All of them were experimentalists and all thrived in the new environment.

This disc looks at the early works of the three composers and therefore is not entirely typical. In a sense I am not quite sure who this disc is aimed at, it might appear to be of interest only to the student, but as music each piece is worth exploring, so let’s do just that.

The Intermezzo and the Scherzo were originally intended as concert companions but only later separated and then re-orchestrated to form part of the four movement ‘Romantic Suite’ Op. 14. It’s good to have them in their original form although divided on this CD, on tracks 1 and 4, by the two Bűrger songs. Schreker's pieces are indeed Romantic and one is reminded of Richard Strauss or Max Regerl sometimes even Debussy. They are well crafted and excellent examples of string music.

I confess to coming to the music of Julius Bűrger for the first time. I have been very impressed by these two songs. It is disappointing that no texts are offered by Nimbus, neither originals nor translations. The excellent booklet notes by Christopher Hailey do however give a brief résumé of their content. They are religious poems. The first is by Christian Morgenstern and is about Christ on his way to Gethsemane. The second is by Gottfried Keller which is "a magical evocation of a summer night. Burger’s setting is the work of a master orchestrator." (Hailey’s notes). The vocal line is focused and expresses the text clearly. The music may remind you of Zemlinsky, perhaps the ‘Lyric Symphony’. Debussy is sometimes at hand and there’s even a touch of Berg. The sonorities are haunting and somehow uniquely the composer’s own. Incidentally if you Google him you will discover many Julius Burgers, some rather dubious.

The Ernst Křenek symphonies were all recorded on the CPO label between 1994 and 1999 by the Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR under Takao Ukigaya. Their First is on CPO 999 359-2 and it makes an intriguing comparison with the one under review here. On first hearing this version I did not enjoy the work particularly and thought it weak and tedious. The next day I listened again to Ukigaya’s recording with the intention of hearing just a little. As it turned out, I was so gripped that I played it all. Why? Perhaps I was in a more receptive mood. I finally decided that it was all to do with pacing. I’ll explain. I began to realize that each of the nine sections of the symphony - its structure is very curious - was considerably tighter and faster in the CPO version. Just on basic timings the CPO version runs to 30:38. This new one has a duration of 35:36 and checking each individual section you find that Axelrod is always slower. In the case of the third section ‘Larghetto’ he is slower by 50%. What does this matter? In some ways I prefer the slow, static quality of Axelrod’s three slower movements. However the faster ones lack drive and excitement and it’s that which has a debilitating effect. The colossal final fugue takes over a half a minute more in Axelrod’s hands.

Sadly the contents of this disc seem unfocused and the Křenek performance is disappointing. The Schreker pieces are available elsewhere and anyway are not top-drawer. Only the two songs by Bűrger are of real interest but the lack of texts is a nuisance. The recording is excellent with considerable presence and power and all the detail clear.

Gary Higginson

 







 


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