FRANZ SHREKER ON CD

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Music is its own language, and therefore it is unnecessary to attach adjectives to describe it. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, and what one may describe as beautiful may sound positively ugly to someone else. Thus adverbs are preferable, for they are safer and more accurately objective. It’s simpler to say that Jo Ann Falletta conducts the music of Franz Schreker passionately than it is to call the music of the 20th century German composer ‘passionate’.

Given all that it’s easier to write Maestra Falletta conducts the music of the Austro-German post-Romantic composer with appropriate passion. Of course who know knows Ms. Falletta was feeling from June 19 to 23, 2017! I doubt that even she herself would not remember. One can only subjectively say how wonderfully satisfying the sounds she elicited from the members of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in Berlin’s GrosseSendesaal a year plus ago are to this listener’s heart and brain a year plus later.

Passionate? Sure!

Most of us know little or nothing about how Franz Shreker was feeling in 1914 when he composed Vorspiel zu einem Drama, or six years earlier when he wrote The Birthday of the Infanta (English title), after Oscar Wilde’s novella, or a year before that, when he penned his Opus 14, Romantische Suite. One can only surmise from the excellent liner notes attached to this NAXOS CD by Paul Conway and Chris Possiac that the hapless Shreker was none too happy with the cool reception the critics of his time were according his works, given the inevitable rise of the Dodecaphonists, and the large shadows cast by the rising Richard Strauss and the by then consecrated Gustav Mahler.

None of the three compositions included in this CD were conceived for the lyric stage, as much of Shreker’s work is. But theatrical they are, and framed not in the traditional forms of overture and symphony, but as concert pieces that may be used, if desired, in other ways, as was the case with The Birthday of the Infanta, which premiered as a balletic pantomime with sets by Gustav Klimt, no less. The music for this composition in particular reflects the largely gentler sentiments of love and heartbreak that the dwarf at the center of the story experiences during his all too-brief life in the Spanish Court of the 1600’s so colorfully depicted in Diego Velazquez Las Meninas.

Shreker’s complex music reflects the personal and professional vicissitudes that led to his premature death from a stroke at age 56. At times lyrical, at others dramatic, yet ever melodic this music is quintessentially post-Romantic and modern for its time.

The Nazi specter was rising in Germany, and already much of the music of Shreker’s contemporaries, Jewish or not, was being labeled Entertete (Contaminated) and kept out of German radio and concert halls. Paralyzed and embittered by circumstance, the composer’s death at age 55 spared him the exile that Kurt Weill and Ernest Krenek and Arnold Schoenberg chose, or an even worse fate suffered by Krasa, Ullmann, Haas, and others among the many European artists and musicians who perished during the Holocaust.

Rafael de Acha

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