Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Schreker Orchestral Music from the Operas

Schreker: Orchestral Music from the Operas
Royal Swedish Orchestra
Lawrence Renes, conductor
BIS 2122 (SACD)

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Franz Schreker enjoys a modest but enduring reputation in the opera houses of the German-speaking world, and appearances of his music on disc follow suit—occasional but not uncommon, and mostly from Germany. So this Swedish recording of orchestral excerpts is a welcome exception. It’s an impressive disc, the selections presenting the composer at his finest, and all performed with precision and feeling, and recorded at the high standards associated with the BIS label, still laudably loyal to the SACD format.
The five tracks all relate to separate operas, in the case of the Vorspiel zu einer grossen Oper, to an unrealized opera project about the Egyptian god Memnon. The feeling throughout is of operatic drama, Wagnerian in spirit through often with a light, lyrical touch that suggests a French influence (a chord sequence in the Das Spielwerk Prelude sounds identical to the sunrise in Daphnis et Chloé, with which it is almost exactly contemporary). But the program also works well as a series of standalone works, and all were arranged as such by the composer, so there are no bleeding chunks.
The most famous of the operas here is Der ferne Klang, the ravishing “Nachtstück” of which rounds off the program, although Horst A. Scholz’s liner note informs us that Der Schatzgräber was the most successful of Schreker’s operas in his day (Gerd Albrecht’s recordings of both full operas have recently been rereleased on Capriccio 5178 and 5175—fine recordings if you can see past the cheap library-image covers and negligible documentation). The Schatzgräber Interlude opens the program, with an uncharacteristic tutti outburst that soon falls back into the composer’s more typical languid textures. The orchestration in this first work is also typical of what follows, imaginative and continuously colorful, but without ever drawing too much attention to itself. So we hear a solo violin (beautifully played) for just a few bars, and later on there are elegant woodwind ensembles, subtle percussion effects, and discreet celesta interjections. Die Gezeichneten provides the second track, in the form of the work’s Prelude. The setting for this opera is 16th-century Genoa, and Schreker gives the music a Medieval flavor, although his late-Romantic style prevails, with plenty of swooning Romantic melodies to support the love story. (A video of the full opera is currently available on The Opera Platform web site, from L’opera de Lyon, and is well-worth investigating:
Lawrence Renes and Royal Swedish Orchestra do a fine job with Schreker’s music. The performances feel more disciplined than in Schreker recordings of the past, but no less passionate for it. A little more bravura from the brass, especially the trumpets, might have added to the climaxes, and a case could also be made for more warmth from the strings, but both are minor complaints. All of these works, apart from the Die Gezeichneten Prelude, also appear on two recordings from Vassily Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos (9797 and 9951), both of which were well received when released in 2000 and 2001. But this new recording stands up well on its own merits: welcome indulgences in Schreker’s expertly crafted orchestral sound world, and tantalizing tasters for his full operas, most of which are also well served by recent recordings.


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