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Schreker: Das Weib Des Intaphernes / Gulke, WDR Rundfunkorchester

Schreker / Wdr Rundfunkorchester Koln / Gulke
Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Capriccio Records   Catalog #: 7088  
Composer:  Franz SchrekerIgnace Strasfogel
Performer:  Peter DickeGert WestphalKolja Lessing
Conductor:  Peter Gülke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony OrchestraCologne West German Radio Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHREKER Various works Peter Gülke, cond; 1 Gert Westpal (speaker 2 ); Peter Dicke, (org 3 ); WDR R Ch; 3 Mechthild Georg (mez 4 ); WDR RO; 1 Kolja Lessing (pn 5 ) Read more CAPRICCIO C-7088 (3 CDs: 184:02 Text and Translation)

SCHREKER 1 Symphony No. 1. 2 Das Weib des Intaphernes. 3 Psalm 116 1 Festwalzer und Walzerintermezzo. Ein Tanzspiel. 4 5 Songs for Low Voice and Orchestra. 3 Schwanensang. 2 4 Poems. 4 WOLF 2 Lieder (arr. Schreker) SCHREKER 5 Chamber Symphony STRASFOGEL Scherzo No. 1

This set seems to be three separate CDs cobbled together in one cardboard sleeve. All were recorded from 1997 to 2000, however, which suggests some sort of correlation. Individual Capriccio discs were released at the time but seem to have escaped notice in Fanfare . The notes go on and on about the Wagner-Brahms controversies in turn-of-the-19th-century Vienna and how Schreker came down hard on the side of Brahms, although acknowledging Bruckner too as an influence on the 20-year-old’s First Symphony. But I have just come from a Metropolitan Opera Live HD showing of Götterdämmerung , which reminded me how strongly that masterpiece is echoed here, the symphony’s first two movements filled with Siegfried-like horn calls leaping from a rich if muddy orchestral bed. Only an Andante bears any relationship to a Brahmsian world. The three long movements (a finale has been lost) seem formally incoherent, and the composer’s eventual orchestral mastery is barely suggested. Only the unearthing of a forgotten composer can have prompted a recording of this amorphous piece. The Psalm, for female voices, orchestra, and organ, does recall the Brahms of A German Requiem . It was written two years after the symphony and begins to reveal the young composer’s attraction to drama, but it too enjoys a blazing lack of clarity. The beginnings of Der ferne Klang —his stunning masterpiece—came only a year later, but the version we know was more than a decade in the making, so there was plenty of time yet for him to grow. Schreker’s sudden rise to prominence, with operas rivaling Richard Strauss in popularity (and notoriety), was nowhere near as baffling as his gradual decline to mediocrity that followed in the 1920s. The Wife of Intaphernes , a melodrama completed in 1933, resurrects a bit of his magic, its orchestra as sinuous and suggestive as in his great operas. The absence of texts for this work is most damaging for listeners not fluent in German. The wife’s entire family, imprisoned by the tyrant Darius, is faced with death. He offers to free just one of them (of her choosing) for a night with her. Faced with an impossible choice, she sets the palace on fire and destroys everyone. The text (by Eduard Stucken) implies a female narrator, which it received (Lena Stolze) on Gerd Albrecht’s 2000 Koch Schwann recording—they also complete it in 25 minutes instead of 30. What it did not receive there, however, was any written text. Nor have I been able to find one on the Internet, except for a book of Stucken ballades. Both performances do justice to the music.

Festwalzer und Walzerintermezzo is a single work, an intoxicating eight-minute ballet with all the voluptuous, mysterious charm and slithering harmonies of Der ferne Klang. Wrapped in Schreker’s sleek, rich orchestral sonorities, it out-Strausses both Johann II and Richard. This performance captures all of its swirling glory, whereas one led by John Axelrod on Nimbus falls flat. A Dance Play is another short ballet, this time in four movements: Sarabande, Minuet, Madrigal, Gavotte. Tied to the old forms, Schreker is less robust. The scoring is now more acerbic but still gorgeous; the harmonies leaning toward those of Schreker’s Viennese contemporary Franz Schmidt, the music yearning for a fin-de-siècle Vienna that was vanishing with the new century. The Five Songs for Low Voice and Orchestra (1909, orchestrated 1923) display Schreker at his finest. A woman, depressed after being abandoned by her lover, contemplates suicide. The music quickly escapes the boundaries of tonality and yet continues to be lyrical. The result is halfway between Schoenberg and Berg, with the addition of Schreker’s own shining sonorities; gentle cymbals and distant harps seem to comment on the texts. Mechthild Georg, holding down a big operatic voice, captures the woman’s desolation perfectly. A stunning cycle, and a riveting performance. Schreker was a poet as well as a composer; four of his poems are recited (without music), interspersed with two Hugo Wolf songs orchestrated by Schreker: Heimweh (Homesickness) and Verschwiegene Liebe (Secret Love). Restored to a tonal world, Georg’s singing is as beautiful as ever. Disc 2 closes with the choral Swan Song of 1902, sounding much like the Psalm on disc 1. This CD boasts complete, side-by-side, three-language texts, not only of the songs and poems—one of them 150 lines—but also of four Schreker poems to the movements of A Dance Play (which do not accompany the music).

CD 3 is an odd addition to this Schrekerfest , transcribing the works of one of music’s most gifted orchestrators to the piano. Ignaz Strasfogel (1909–94) was one of Schreker’s youngest students in Berlin; he wrote his transcription of the 1916 Chamber Symphony in 1925; his teacher was so delighted that he arranged for immediate publication. The disc opens with the 15-year-old Strasfogel’s “grotesque” (from pianist Kolja Lessing’s notes to this disc) Scherzo No. 1, a wildly varied yet consummately crafted work displaying total confidence with its material, even brilliant fugal passages that were de rigueur for students in that era. This piece alone puts Strasfogel in a class with Korngold and Mendelssohn as juvenile geniuses—and Lessing within sight of Horowitz and Pollini. An interesting Decca Entartete-Musik disc of Strasfogel piano music from 1925 to 1992, also played by Lessing, offers nothing to equal this Scherzo. It is so rewarding, so thrilling, that it makes Strasfogel’s Schreker transcriptions sound weak. The outer sleeve of this three-disc set announces Der Geburtsag der Infantin (suite), but all we get is two of its movements (four minutes out of nearly half an hour of music). They open Strasfogel’s Franz Schreker Book , piano transcriptions of those two, the Gavotte from A Dance Play , and one excerpt each from Schreker’s “big three” operas. High drama is reduced to charming background music. The Chamber Symphony depends on its delicate Der ferne Klang -like scoring for much of its charm, which even this sensitive piano transcription cannot re-create. Hear it in Heinrich Schiff’s fine performance with Musikkollegium Winterthur on Farao Classics. Gerd Albrecht’s Koch disc, mentioned above, also includes a superb Infantin Suite.

Recommendation is a tough call: Disc 1 is a loser, disc 2 contains marvelous things, and disc 3 is most notable for a seven-minute piece not by Schreker. The complete Schrekerite may already have recordings of much of this music, but no one should be without the Strasfogel Scherzo and the marvelous performances on disc 2. Fortunately, this well-recorded reissue is priced as a single disc.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Symphony in A minor, Op. 1 by Franz Schreker
Conductor:  Peter Gülke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Vienna, Austria 
Psalm 116, Op. 6 by Franz Schreker
Performer:  Peter Dicke (Organ)
Conductor:  Peter Gülke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Chorus,  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1900; Vienna, Austria 
Das Weib des Intaphernes by Franz Schreker
Performer:  Gert Westphal (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Peter Gülke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; Berlin, Germany 
Schwanensang, Op. 11 by Franz Schreker
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1902; Vienna, Austria 
Festwalzer und Walzerintermezzo by Franz Schreker
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1908; Vienna, Austria 
Der Geburtstag der Infantin by Franz Schreker
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1908; Austria 
Franz Schreker-Heft by Franz Schreker
Performer:  Kolja Lessing (Piano)
Written: 1927 
Chamber Symphony for 23 Instruments in A major by Franz Schreker
Performer:  Kolja Lessing (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; Austria 
Scherzo No. 1 by Ignace Strasfogel
Performer:  Kolja Lessing (Piano)
Written: 1924 

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