Notes and Editorial Reviews
Includes libretto in German and English.
A gripping and imaginative score, steeped in the lush orchestral textures of Strauss and Puccini.
It is good to see the upsurge of interest in Schreker's operas. Irrelohe comes immediately after Der Schatzgraber in the canon and was first produced in 1924 in Cologne. Immediately after the First World War Schreker was hailed by Paul Bekker as the most significant musical-dramatist after Wagner. (''The important question whether a similar type of talent would ever again resurface after Wagner... is now answered: Franz Schreker is such a talent, the first since Wagner, that is of a similar calibre, the same phenomenon, but in a wholly different manifestation.'')
His musical language is steeped in the lush and overripe orchestral textures of Strauss and Puccini, and embraces symbolism, expressionism and the Viennese Jugendstil. One could think of the idiom as a cross between the Strauss of Elektra and Korngold, albeit with a higher norm of dissonance than the latter. Schreker's star began to wane after the critical mauling Irrelohe received, and against a background of resentment at his success, and growing anti-Semitism (he was forced to resign as Director of the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin; subsequent Nazi persecution seems to have occasioned a stroke which led to his death in 1934). He later enjoyed the venom of that self-appointed pontiff of modernism, Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (as indeed did Sibelius – so he was in good company).
Irrelohe, to the composer's own libretto, is set in the eighteenth century. Count Heinrich lives as a recluse in Irrelohe castle, fearing hereditary madness should he give way to sexual passion. His love for Eva inspires the jealousy of her suitor, Peter, as well as the enmity of Christobald, whose own fiancee had been raped by Heinrich's father. Peter attempts to prevent their wedding but is killed in the ensuing struggle, and in the meantime Christobald sets fire to Irrelohe. Echoes of Valhalla's fate in Gotterdammerung! Eva finally sings of the redemptive power of love. (The name of the opera, incidentally, derives from a railway station: while travelling on a sleeping-car Schreker, woken up by a guard calling out the name of a station, looked out of the window and saw the name, Irrloh.)
While Schreker's mastery of dramatic and psychological effects is not in question, many critics have felt that his music is too close to the wilder shores of Hollywood for comfort (Wolfgang Molkov's note speaks of it having ''quite an inventory of horror-film cliches'') but we do not condemn, say, Ravel or Prokofiev, because others have pillaged and polluted their harmonic vocabulary; nor should we Schreker. While recognizably indebted, mainly to Strauss and Puccini, Irrelohe as drama with music holds you almost from start to finish. The characters and the vocal lines are drawn with care and the orchestral textures are sumptuous. My only reservation is that although there is a great deal of highly imaginative material and a sophisticated orchestral resource, Schreker's music is predominantly a succession of finely realized atmospheres: melodic inspiration of a strongly individual profile is less in evidence though there are inspired passages – the Prelude to Act 3 is one, though the act as a whole strikes me as the least interesting musically. Everything is dramatically effective and indeed masterly. In his thoughtful paper ''Style, Structure and Taste: Three Aspects of the Problem of Franz Schreker'' (Proceedings of the Royal Music Association: 1982) Peter Franklin speaks of him as ''a brilliant musical psychologist whose 'decadence' is a function of the range of experience on which he draws and the skill with which he manages its naturalistic representation in music''.
The performance under Peter Gulke is thoroughly committed and the cast is a strong one. The recording derives from a concert performance given in the Grosser Musikvereinsaal in Vienna and although the singers are favoured there is an excellent and well-balanced orchestral detail. The break from the first CD to the second in the middle of the eighth scene of Act 2 is not well chosen but otherwise there is no cause for complaint. Those who know Der ferne Klang or Der Schatzgraber will probably need no prompting to investigate this set; for those who don't, Irrelohe is a gripping and imaginative score, well served by all involved in this production.
-- Robert Layton, Gramophone [12/1995]