SCHREKER: Prelude to a Drama. Valse
lente. Ekkehard, Op.
12. Symphonic Interlude from Der Schatzgräber. Nachtstück from
ferne Klang. Fantastic Overture, Op. 15
Austrian composer Franz Schreker (1878-1934), a contemporary of Richard Strauss, studied violin and composition at the Vienna Academy first coming to the attention of the Viennese musical world in 1908 with his ballet The Birthday of the Infanta. He founded the Vienna Philharmonic Choir, wrote several operas that were highly successful (Der ferne Klang, Die Gezeichneten, Der Schatzgräber), and in 1920 became director of the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, remaining in Berlin for the rest of his life. His later works were not very well received; as a Jew, his career faltered in Germany because of Nazi pressures.
A master orchestrator, Schreker's early works showed little influence of Wagner or Strauss except for leitmotifs; however, later works often remind the listener of those composers, with traces of Erich Wolfgang Korngold whose operas dazzled Viennese audiences about this time. Some listeners also might detect a touch of the exoticism of Alexander Scriabin. This new Chandos CD begins with Prelude to a Drama, premiered in 1914 with Felix Weingartner conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. It's a long Prelude (20:17) of varying moods conveying several scenes from the opera that followed later, clearly showing the composer's total mastery of orchestration. Ekkehard, Op. 12, a "symphonic overture," is one of Schreker's earliest works, also premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic, this time directed by Joseph Hellmesberger, in 1903. The plot is about a monk who leaves his monastery to become tutor to Hadwig, Duchess of Swabia, and his ill-fated love for her. The CD notes mention "use of the solo organ at the climax" but actually this brief interlude occurs mid-overture. Fantastic Overture, Op. 15, a concert overture dating from 1903/4, doesn't live up to expectations suggested by its title, although it is pleasant enough and beautifully orchestrated.
Two extensive symphonic interludes representing night are the featured works on this CD, the first (14:31) from Schreker's most successful opera Der Schatzgräber ("The Treasure-seeker"), written 1915-18. This is an exotic "night scene" that shows the composer at his most impressive, highly descriptive of a night of erotic passion, a la Tristan. The second (16:15) is from Schreker's then yet-to-be written opera Der ferne Klang. In this the composer portrays spiritual moods and struggles of Fritz, the "hero," during a sleepless night. The premiere in 1909 because of its erotic subject and sensuous music caused quite a scandal for the Viennese public. A wistful, enchanting miniature, Valse lente, which sounds as if it could have been composed by Bernard Herrmann (!!) fills out this CD.
Vassily Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic give sensitive readings of these colorful scores. Chandos' warm, resonant sound is appropriate for the textures of Schreker's rich orchestral textures.