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Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Orchestral and Choral Music
Symphony in A Minor, Op. 1 (1899) [29:38]
Das Weib Des Intaphernes (1932-33) [29:17]
Psalm 116, Op. 6 (1900) [12:27]
Festwalzer und Walzerintermezzo (1908) [7:55]
Ein Tanzspiel (1910) [11:25]
Fünf Gesänge (Ich frag’ nich dir jedwede Morgensonne; Dies aber kann mein Sehnen nimmer fassen; Die Dunkelheit sinkt schwer wie Blei; Sie sind so Schön die Milden, Sonnenreichen; Einst gibt ein Tag mir alles Glück zu eigen) (1908 orch. 1922) [12:37]
Immer hatt’ich noch Glück im Leben [0:31]
Wollte Ich hadern mit Glück und Schicksal [0:41]
Heimweh: Eichendorff Lieder(Wolf, arr. Schreker) [2:38]
Fagea [1:56]
Verschwiegene Liebe: Eichendorff Lieder (Wolf, arr. Schreker) [2:12]
Die Sturmglocke [6:09]
Schwanengesang, Op. 11 [13:27]
Gert Westphal (narrator); Mechthild Georg (mezzo); Peter Dicke (organ)
Cologne Radio Orchestra and Chorus/Peter Gülke
WDR Sinfonieorchester/Peter Gülke
rec. Köln, 1990s? Capriccio originals.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94237 [71:23 + 59:31]

This is an inexpensive and handy pair of discs deriving from studio projects by WDR and Köln musicians conducted by Peter Gülke. 

The early Symphony bristles with restless propulsion contrasted with romantic reflection. Schreker’s glossary at that stage extended to a Brucknerian sense of the colossal and the anxious. It’s clear he also felt Schumann’s pull towards lyrical release. You can hear this in the unhurried Andante finale. It’s all silkily and energetically handled. How revolutionary of Schreker to end with a slow movement with such an undiluted peaceful demeanour.
Most of the remainder of CD 1 is given over to Das Weib des Intaphernes. This is a 30-minute piece for speaker and orchestra and one of Schreker's last works. It's a glowingly varied tapestry and is affluent in lyrical detail. Gert Westphal's oration of the tale in German (no translation provided) imbues every syllable with colour and nuance. The tale he tells is typically tragic and dissolute. It goes back to Biblical times: Darius the tyrant envies Intaphernes who has all the personal qualities the tyrant lacks. He has Intaphernes and his family, except Intaphernes’ wife, imprisoned. The wife's rescue attempt fails and having cornered her Darius says that if she will give herself to him then he will liberate one of the family. She instead sets the palace aflame and kills everyone including herself, her family and the evil Darius. The music boils with apocalyptic passion and tragedy. By the way, if you warm to that sort of thing then do not on any account miss Vittorio Giannini’s extraordinary Medead for soprano and Straussian orchestra. You will not be disappointed. It can be heard on You-Tube.
Psalm 116 dates from a year after the symphony. It is a smoothly mellifluous piece, warmed by the shades of Brahms' Requiem and lit by the same sun that illumines the heights of Delius's A Mass of Life. Much the same ramparts are glowingly patrolled by Schwanengesang which ends CD 2. No glare or dazzle here - just a steadily sustained opalescence.
The second disc mixes orchestral dances with poetry and pieces for voice and orchestra. The Festwalzer und Walzerintermezzo andEin Tanzspiel (four movements)should appeal to those already conquered by the orchestral lollipops from Rosenkavalier and Strauss's and Korngold's lighter dance confections. There are perhaps some unconscious parallels with Frank Bridge's Dance Poem and Dance Rhapsody although the Bridge items do, I think, have psychological foundations absent from these two lushly romantic pieces. The Fünf Gesänge date from 1908 but the songs were lambently and lucidly orchestrated in 1922. The words are by Edith Ronsperger and are to Arabian Nights subjects. They place themselves in the same broad territory as Ravel's Shéhérazade song-cycle and Ouverture féërie and Szymanowski's Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin. The sinister tolling of Die Dunkelheit is especially impressive in the way it sends a chill through the palm trees and minarets. There are three brief poems by the composer. These are read with obvious engagement again by Westphal. Schreker's tasteful orchestrations of two songs from Wolf's Eichendorff Lieder complete the picture.
The notes are no also-ran. They are by Malcolm Macdonald, an open-minded force for good in music of the current and past century and long-time editor of Tempo - one of the greats of musical literature. Would that my budget could stretch to the electronic version of Tempo from its earliest issues. Pity about the absence of the sung and spoken texts in original language and translation.
While we are on the subject, Schreker’s opera Irrelohe was on Sony S2K66850 and merits reissuing. His impressive Kammersinfonie (1916) for 23 players is well worth hearing as also are his ballet Der Geburtstag der Infantin and the operas: Der Ferne Klang (1912), Die Gezeichneten (1918) and Der Schatzgräber (1920).
To summarise: these discs encapsulate in smoke and flame Schreker's late-romantic and expressionist proclivities across the genres of orchestra, voice, melodrama and poetry.
Rob Barnett