Franz Schreker: On Eternal Life, et al. – sensual orchestral music

Franz Schreker is best remembered for his operas. But his melodic gifts and innovative harmonies extended to his orchestral work as well. This release presents a variety of Schreker’s concert works, spanning his creative life.

 “Ekkehard” Symphonic Overture, Op. 12 and Fantastic Overture, Op. 15 were written at the turn of the 20th Century. Schreker’s studies with Robert Fuchs were done. His style in these overtures is greatly reminiscent of Fuchs’ own compositions. There’s a restless energy to them, as the harmonies continually slide from one to the other. Schrecker, like Mahler, was pushing at the boundaries of tonality.

“On Eternal Life” for soprano and orchestra was premiered in 1927. Schrecker was second-most performed living composer in Germany (next to Richard Strauss). To my ears, it anticipates the wonderous musical world Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” inhabit. Careful attention is paid to orchestration to cast every word in just the right mood. And Schreker uses his mastery of opera to write truly engaging and beautiful music for the soprano. Soprano Valda Wilson sings with a warm, pliant tone that delivers the subtle emotions at play in the text.

The 1930 “Four Little Pieces for Large Orchestra” pushes tonality even further. If “Ekkehard” resembled Mahler, then these sound more like his student Schoenberg — right before he moved atonality. The work has an aggressive Expressionist character to it, alternating with lyrical passages that never quite calm.

“Prelude to a Grand Opera” comes at the end of Schreker’s short-lived career. It fell victim to the Nazis, who disrupted and then forbade performances of Schrekere’s music. The Grand Overture seems somewhat conservative compared to the “Four Little Pieces” but only marginally so. It’s still an exciting, dramatic work with plenty of surprises for the listener.

The Deutsche Staatphilharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz has a rich creamy ensemble sound as they’re recorded. Conductor Christopher Ward brings out the sensual nature of Schreker’s music, making this a wonderful album to listen to.

Franz Schreker: On Eternal Life; Fantastic Overture, Op. 15; Ekkehard Symphonic Overture, Op. 12; Prelude to a Grand Opera; Four Little Pieces
Valda Wilson, soprano Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Christopher Ward, conductor
Capriccio C5348

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