Franz Schreker (1878-1934) was the son of a Jewish court photographer from Bohemia. He was a truly great composer and an exciting orchestrator, but fate decreed that his artistic career was to run with that of Richard Strauss and being a Jew, his music was later declared degenerate and not fit for the human ear. Notwithstanding these awesome challenges, Schreker was at first regarded as one of the most prolific opera composers during the 1920's. His stage-works were hailed as legitimate heirs to those of Wagner, and he even enjoyed higher performance figures than those of his rival contemporary R. Strauss. With the onset of Nazism, his works disappeared completely, like those of many others, and it is only in the last two decades that a fresh appraisal has been undertaken.
When Schreker composed "Irrehole" in 1924, he had already some big hits to his name, such as "Der Ferneklange" (The Distant Sound) of 1912 and "Gezeichneten" (The Branded One) of 1918. The composer, who, like Wagner, also wrote his own libretti, got the idea for the title while drowsing on a train: Irrelohe was the name of a remote station somewhere between Dresden and Nuremberg and has absolutely nothing to do with the plot that includes crazy courts, white hot passion, rape, a church wedding, curse, indomitable love and arson against a conflicting backdrop of the formal and primal elements of life. There is also a strong and disturbing psychic thread in the characters' behavior that borders on almost total madness.
So what about Schreker's score? As in all his operas before or after, the composer was able to create music that possesses a huge dramatic impact within a framework of luscious hypnotic sounds that are both alluring and strikingly pungent.
Recorded live at the Theatre Bonn in November 2010, the performance is nothing short of electrifying, and Blumier not only excels in keeping the drama moving briskly, but his judicious control of the heightened tensions of the story is masterful throughout. Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra give 100 per cent, and their unbridled enthusiasm for Schreker's cause allows one to feast on the many jewels of this phenomenal creation.
Irrelohe (Flames of Madness) was premièred by Otto Klemperer in Cologne in 1924, but has not been heard since. This blockbuster of a recording is the ideal opportunity for all opera lovers to rediscover one of the most original stage-works to come out of Germany in the early 1920's. Excellent notes and presentation complete a riveting issue that is a credit to MD&G's enterprising vision and all those responsible for bringing this exciting project to fruition.
Copyright © 2011, Gerald Fenech