Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Franz Schreker; Franz Schmidt; Ferruccio Busoni - Orchestral Works


Composer: Franz Schreker; Franz Schmidt; Ferruccio Busoni

  • (01-05 Schreker - Kammersymphonie
  • (06) Schreker - Intermezzo for string orchestra, Op. 8
  • (07) Schreker - Vorspiel zu einem Drama
  • (08-10) Schreker - Romantische Suite
  • (11) Schreker - 5 Gesänge: 3. Die Dunkelheit sinkt schwer wie Blei
  • (01) Schreker - Vorspiel zu einer großen Oper
  • (02) Schreker - Der Ferne Klang, opera: In einem Lande ein bleicher König (Act 2)
  • (03-05) Schmidt - Variations on a Hussar's song
  • (06-07) Busoni - 2 Studies from "Doktor Faust", Op. 51

Camerata Academica Salzburg, cond. Franz Welser-Möst (CD1 1-5, 1996)
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, cond. James Conlon (CD1 6-10; CD2 1, 1997)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Aribert Reimann, piano (CD1 1, 1970)
Thomas Hampson, baritone; Munich Radio Orchestra, cond. Fabio Luisi (CD2 2, 1994)
New Philharmonia Orchestra, cond. Hans Bauer (CD2 3-5, 1975)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Daniell Revenaugh (CD2 6-7, 1967)

Date (compilation): 2010
Label: EMI



The refulgent melodic expressionism of Schreker's music is here sampled at bargain price. The Busoni and Schmidt items date back to LP days but still sound very healthy. The Schreker material was first issued on CD and now re-appears at a price fit to attract even the most risk-averse. Make hay!

Franz Welser-Most seems to have had a mixed reception - things may change. He revels in the glistening Xanadu that is Schreker's Chamber Symphony. It’s a lovely shimmering piece with a somewhat Mahlerian style mixed in with a late-romantic surge and shimmer that occasionally tips towards Korngold.

James Conlon, the Gürzenich Orchestra in Köln and EMI did superb work for Zemlinsky in the 1980s and 1990s. It really merits a complete Zemlinsky-Conlon box rather than the still admirable triple EMI box we already have. While in Köln Conlon also tackled Schreker and these are the results. One puzzle though. The booklet lists after Conlon's name 'conductor's assistant' Philippe de Chalendar. I am not sure what this signifies. Can anyone shed any light on the matter?

The string orchestra Intermezzo is a lovely concentrated piece with a lullingly atmospheric profile. The rounded narrative of Vorspiel zu einem Drama - a 19 minute work was written in parallel with the music-drama Die Gezeichneten. In this sense it can be compared with extended opera-associated works such as Leonora 3 and Holbrooke's Dylan prelude and Caradoc's Lament. It's a rhapsodic tone-poem with much glimmeringly fantastic writing - often delicate rather than bruisingly rhetorical. The music sometimes rises to Wagnerian emphasis but this is predominantly a potent mood-piece. When at his most diaphanous, as here, Schreker links arms in the moonlight and dappled leafage with Griffes and early Bax.

The Romantic Suite is in three movements. Originally it was in four but the string Intermezzo (see above) was detached as a freestanding concert entity. The resulting work is more homogeneous and of a piece. The music is warmly romantic - a sort of exalted synthesis of Wagner and Schumann and none of the fantastic textures of the later works. There's a playful Scherzo then a cheerily regal Allegro vivace. This is early Schreker.

The first CD ends with Die dunkelheit sinkt schwer wie Biel sung by Fischer-Dieskau with composer-pianist Aribert Reimann piano. DFD, heard in 1970, is in commanding voice and adeptly handles the magical closing transition to sleep. The song is from Der ferne Klang - recorded in full on Naxos. No printed words I am afraid. The same opera also yields up - this time with full orchestra - In einem lande ein bleicher Koenig sung by Thomas Hampson who rasps out every ominous syllable. This is music-making charged with doom and a certain magnificent obsession with mayhem.

The second disc introduces us to Vorspiel zu einer großen Oper. This time the opera is the uncompleted Memnon. It’s open-textured music with a sultry oriental lisp, defiant and sinister and only one step back from the claustrophobic tempests of Barber's Antony and Cleopatra or Schmitt's superheated Salome.

Nothing wrong with the non-Schreker tracks - quite the contrary but it is a pity there was not sufficient for an all-Schreker set.

The Franz Schmidt Variations begin in typically sombre and occluded fashion as strings meditate in a complex weaving web which seems at odd with the jaunty Hussar Song theme. Hans Bauer leads us through the often light-hearted eighteen variations. The posthorn jollity of the finale does come as a surprise.

The two Busoni pieces were recorded in 1967 and issued as fillers to John Ogdon's pioneering recording of the Busoni Piano Concerto which took up three sides of vinyl. The Sarabande is grave and tragic. The Cortège is said to reflect the many sides to the character of Mephistopheles. The start unnervingly echoes the opening of Sibelius's Nightride and Sunrise These two pieces are most thrillingly recorded.

The brief scene-establishing notes are by Martin Cotton. The thin booklet also holds full track contents and detailed discographical provenance.

A very strongly recorded and performed Schreker anthology. Not to forget Schreker's full-price representation on Chandos (CHAN 9797; CHAN 9951) but this is well worth the explorer's time and bank account.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Another review:


Franz Schreker (23 March 1878 – 21 March 1934) was an Austrian composer, conductor, teacher and administrator. Although Schreker was influenced by composers such as Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, his mature style shows a highly individual harmonic language. Schreker's fame and influence were at their peak during the early years of the Weimar Republic when he was the most performed living opera composer after Richard Strauss. After decades in obscurity, Schreker has begun to enjoy a considerable revival in reputation in the German-speaking world and in the United States.


Franz Schmidt (22 December 1874 – 11 February 1939) was an Austrian composer, cellist and pianist. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Robert Fuchs, Ferdinand Hellmesberger and Anton Bruckner. Schmidt was also a brilliant pianist. As a composer, Schmidt was slow to develop, but his reputation, at least in Austria, saw a steady growth from the late 1890s until his death in 1939. In his music, Schmidt continued to develop the Viennese classic-romantic traditions he inherited from Schubert, Brahms and his own master, Bruckner.


Ferruccio Busoni (1 April 1866 – 27 July 1924) was an Italian composer, pianist, conductor, editor, writer, and piano teacher. Busoni was an outstanding (if sometimes controversial) pianist from an early age. He began composing in his early years in a late romantic style, and later developed a more individual style, often with elements of atonality. Busoni's impact on music was perhaps more through those who studied piano and composition with him, and through his writings on music, than through his compositions themselves, of whose style there are no direct successors.


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