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Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Der Schatzgräber - opera in four acts, a prologue and an epilogue (1918) [151:04]
Tijl Faveyts (bass) - Der König
Alasdair Elliott (tenor) - Der Schreiber/Der Kanzler
André Morsch (baritone) - Der Herold/der Graf
Kurt Gysen (bass) - Der Schultheiss/Der Magister
Kay Stiefermann (baritone) - Der Vogt
Mattijs van de Woerd - Der Junker
Andrew Greenan (bass-baritone) - Der Wirt
Manuale Uhl (soprano) - Els
Raymond Very (tenor) - Elis
Graham Clark (tenor) - Der Narr
Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Amsterdam/Marc Albrecht
rec. 30 September, 12, 15, 19 October 2012, Amsterdam Music Theatre
CHALLENGE RECORDS CC72591 [71:42 + 79:22]

Franz Schreker is a name which has grown in terms of public recognition in recent years, with excellent recordings of operas such as Der ferne Klang (see review) and other works raising his profile to ever wider audiences. This recording of Der Schatzgräber follows hot on the heels of a re-release with the Hamburg State opera from Capriccio. This was considered by Paul Corfield Godfrey as an admirable but not entirely unblemished production (see review). This originally appeared as C60010-2 and is indeed a pretty decent recording, though with by no means the opulence of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra who turn the work into something truly grand. The Capriccio recording has the singers very much up-front, where the Amsterdam balance puts the orchestra on a more equal footing. With Schreker’s imaginative and colourful orchestration this is a real boost to the work as a whole. If you are in any doubts as to which version is superior, then it’s this one from Challenge which has my vote by quite a margin.
 
There are cuts mentioned in the Capriccio version. I would love to be able to say my pay grade was high enough for me to research deeply into such things, but a look at the timings and some time spent with the 1919 Vienna-Leipzig Universal-Edition piano score and I can say that there don’t appear to be any cuts in this version. Such things are not mentioned in the book, which doesn’t deal with performance aspects of the production. The book, into the inside covers of which the CDs are securely mounted, is a luxury hard-back item full of glossy and colourful pictures, a synopsis, an essay on the opera by Gavin Plumley and the libretto in full, but only in German.
 
The cast is very strong in the key roles, with Tijl Faveyts authoritative as the King, and Manuele Uhl suitably dramatic as Els. Mattijs van de Woerd has avuncular warmth as the innkeeper, giving the nastiness in the character an enhanced edge of danger. You have to get used to reading carefully to make sure you are not ascribing elements of the story to Els when you really need the similarly named Elis, but there is no confusion about Raymond Very’s fine tenor in this vital role.
 
The story of the opera is one from which virtually no-one emerges in a good light. The intrigues of theft, murder both suspected and real and the violence of justice would all appear to amount to rather a grim tale, but Schreker knows how to mix light and shade, with luminous moments of love, tenderness and glorious triumph switching on a dime to create moods of heroism and dark drama. The opera has a post-Romantic quality, extending the atmosphere of magic and imagination in Der ferne Klang as well as confronting us with mortality and the worst of human nature. If you like your opera fast-moving and intense then this is the work for you. I like Schreker’s operatic writing for its sense of keenly observed detail, but also for a kind of honesty which doesn’t allow overcomplicated musical technique to stand in the way of directness in communication. There is symbolism, but of the kind which means you don’t need to pass a degree in order to be able to enjoy this work for its remarkable clarity of expression and sheer dramatic impact.
 
The performance as a whole has the feel of a live performance, but without the stomping around and clattering of weaponry which plagues some opera recordings. The surround-sound aspect of the recording enriches your experience, providing some cinematic moments in which orchestral sparkle can appear to float in the air around you, garlanding the singers with Schreker’s fine orchestral details.
 
To sum up, this is one of those operas and recordings which ‘has it all’, from the drama and sublime beauty of the music to the glorious performance and sumptuous recording. If you are a fan of opera on record from any period this is a treat, but if you love your music-dramas exciting, moving and Romantic with a big-boned ‘R’ then this is one you will want to keep close to your SACD sound reproduction unit for a long time to come.
 
Dominy Clements