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Max von SCHILLINGS (1868-1933)
Symphonic Prologue to ‘King Oedipus’, Op.11 (1900) [11:25]
Ein Zwiegesprach, for violin, cello and small orchestra, Op. 8 (1897) [12:32]
Dance of the Flowers (1930) [5:05]
Das Hexenlied (1902) [29:02]
Elisabeth Glass (violin)
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
Martha Mödl (narrator)
WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne/Jan Stulen
rec. 1991-92, West German Radio, Cologne
English translations included
CPO 999233-2 [58:17]

Though he was seen as Wagner’s inheritor, not least by his student Wilhelm Furtwängler, Max von Schillings’s star has long since faded. The music of his contemporary Strauss is ubiquitous and even Pfitzner stands as a more fitting representative of the School of the 1860s; I’m not sure that even so well-meaning a disc as this is going to change matters.

The main focus is on Das Hexenlied, a 29-minute melodrama based on a ballad by Ernst von Wildenbruch, premiered in 1902. It’s declaimed by Martha Mödl, from which one can infer the recording is not new, given that she died in 2001; in fact, the four pieces were taped by WDR Cologne back in 1991-92. She proves an admirable exponent of the spoken part, though I wish that CPO had included the original German text; they do supply an English translation. The main problem I have with this melodrama is not the form itself, about which reams can be written, pro and contra, but about the rather sparse nature of von Schillings’ setting. Orchestral pizzicati and string tissues are predictable methods to accompany the text but the music is significantly better when supplied with a little ‘intermezzo’ or when painting scenes of ‘wondrous light’ with decorative wind writing, or solo strings. It’s really only in the final quarter of the work that von Schillings writes a more-or-less continuous orchestral score, much to the benefit of the work. If your tolerance for German declamation is limited, you’ll find much of the rest of the melodrama tricky to listen to.

The Symphonic Prelude to King Oedipus, a stand-alone piece of 1900, shows von Schillings’ late-Romantic credentials unfettered by form. Gaunt, melodic, Straussian – even redolent of Elgar at points – it’s a work that meshes opulence with refinement. The Dance of the Flowers is a five-minute confection, a piece of Light Music penned in 1930 when he had long since abandoned serious composition. By this point he was probably better known as a conductor. Ein Zwiegespräch, Op.8 is a 12-minute ‘colloquy’ cast for violin, cello and small orchestra. This 1897 tone poem – which is what it is, in effect – is music of benign and appealing late-Romanticism once again, the two string instruments coiling lyrically or urgently around each other. Cast aside thoughts of Brahms’ Double Concerto for the same protagonists; von Schillings is working on a miniature scale of compression and of emotion. This must be one of cellist Alban Gerhardt’s earliest appearances. Elisabeth Glass has since distinguished herself in orchestral and chamber music; together they make a splendid youthful team and the Cologne Radio Orchestra under Jan Stulen provides here, as elsewhere, fine support abetted by a good WDR recording.

Jonathan Woolf

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