Schreker: Prelude to a Drama; The Birthday of the Infanta; Romantic Suite

Reviewed on Fri 23 Nov, 2018

To hear this underrated composer firing on all cylinders you need to make a beeline to the Prelude to a Drama, a simply magnificent 18-minute tone-poem utilising material from his opera Die Gezeichneten.

Top billing on the sleeve goes to the 1923 orchestral suite based on music that Franz Schreker (1878-1934) had originally supplied for a 1908 adaptation for theatrical pantomime of Oscar Wilde's novella The Birthday of the Infanta. A most appealing – and by the close supremely touching – confection it is, too, but to hear this underrated composer truly firing on all cylinders you need to make a beeline to the Prelude to a Drama, a simply magnificent 18-minute tone-poem utilising material from his 1913-16 opera Die Gezeichneten. Scored for a huge orchestra (including quadruple winds, six horns, two harps, piano, celesta and a veritable battery of percussion), it's an intoxicatingly opulent, headily beautiful creation – and JoAnn Falletta does it absolutely proud, drawing some splendidly red-blooded playing in a reading of strong temperament and intrepid character that comes close to matching the blistering conviction of Michael Gielen's two recordings (on Koch Schwann and Hänssler). Rounding off proceedings is the altogether slighter, albeit very likeable Romantic Suite from 1903; the third of its four movements (a lovely 'Intermezzo' for strings alone) had appeared separately two years previously and deservedly met with a warm reception. Excellent engineering and annotation add further lustre to a most enterprising release. Not to be missed at Naxos price!
–Andrew Achenbach