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Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
The Birthday of the Infanta (1908; orchestral suite 1923) [33:54]
Valse lente (1910) [7:03]
Festwalzer and Walzerintermezzo (1908) [7:05]
The Wind (1909) [10:22]
Ein Tanzspiel (1910) [12:03]
Lucerne Symphony Orchestra/John Axelrod
rec. June 2005, KKL Lucerne, Concert Hall
NIMBUS NI 5753 [71:02]

Experience Classicsonline



 
This is not the disc for those who want to immerse themselves in Schreker’s Late- Romantic intensities. This is the Schreker of genial dance music, principally ballet, in the form of The Birthday of the Infanta, written when the composer was thirty. There are no obvious signs of Expressionism in the 1908 score, from which the composer wrote his orchestral suite in 1923. Rather there is an air of light lyricism and a certain unburdened ebullience, notable straight away in the vivacious Fanfare with which the work starts. There are fourteen separately tracked movements.
 
Despite opportunities Schreker’s goal is not to extract much fanciful or exotic local colour or rhythms. A Bullfight scene, for instance, provokes the merest percussive and brassy acknowledgement from the Viennese composer whose fanfare haughtily disdains to excavate Iberian texture and panache: whipped cream and starched collars not cerveza and castanets. But don’t disdain Schreker’s abundant lyrical gifts; there’s a beautiful violin solo in the Marionette scene (track 5) and he does respond pictorially when required. The ‘Wind in Spring’ tableau is lightly sketched – onrushing strings – but effectively so. There is also ripely romantic cantilena in the ‘Rose’ scene, with its hints of Richard Strauss, and when he spins a waltz scene, which he can do with the best of them, it’s not tinged with any expressionist irony whatsoever.
 
The rest of the programme is certainly cohesive, in the sense that it’s both contemporaneous with this ballet and largely written in the same style and within the same stylistic parameters. There’s a delightfully genial Valse lente which is occasional in the best sense, and lightly scored. There’s also an echt Viennese Festwalzer and Walzerintermezzo from 1908 which is rather more opulently scored, and very Straussian - Johann Straussian, that is. Der Wind is the most atmospheric of all the works, a ten minute piece with fine coloration and texture, suggestive timbres but not cinematic in orientation. There’s a palpable sense of sublimated eroticism here that sets it apart from the other works – or maybe I’m sensing something erotic in it. It’s quite sexy, for sure. That can’t really be said of the last work, the four movement Ein Tanzspiel, which mines baroque titling such as Menuett and Gavotte. The Madrigal is the most entertaining of the quartet – it sounds like a Viennese ‘Banjo and Fiddle’ for a brief moment.
 
If the Lucerne Symphony under their conductor John Axelrod had not played so well and indeed vibrantly, much of this music would probably sound considerably more pallid. It needs adventurous playing and full commitment. It gets both, and a fine recording to boot.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

See also review by Gavin Dixon
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