John Axelrod

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23 Mar 2006
LSO recording and concert Reviews
Various publications

Rezension Schreker CD von J. Leonard auf (23. März 2006)

Review by James Leonard

For listeners to whom writers Schnitzler and Hofmannsthal, painters Klimt and Schiele, and composers Schreker and Zemlinsky mean nothing, this disc, entitled Franz Schreker und Ausdrucktanz will mean nothing. But for listeners to whom these writers, painters, and composers conjure images of youthful decadence, aesthetic violence, sensual opulence, and ecstatic despair, this disc will be just the thing to top off a night of debauched delights. Containing all the extant ballet works the young Franz Schreker wrote for the sister-dancers Elsa and Grete Wiesenthal, advocates of the Viennese modern dance movement called Ausdrucktanz (Expressive Dance), the disc features sumptuous and sympathetic performances by John Axelrod leading the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester guaranteed to inflame all but the most exhausted listeners. While these are all early works - Schreker had just turned 30 when he wrote the first of them - they are also his first fully characteristic works and each one has that special Schreker black magic. From the glittering luxury of Der Geburtstag der Infantin - performed in its original leaner scoring and including for the first time all the music that survives - through the sentimental morbidity of Valse Lente, the voluptuous irony of the Festwalzer und Walzerintermezzo, the enticingly erotic Der Wind to the affectingly sarcastic Ein Tanzspiel with its parodistic sarabande, menuett, madrigal, and gavotte, the young Schreker clearly had his finger on the pulse of inchoate expressionism. The Swiss players perform with a warm, almost humid tone and a colorful, nearly shimmering sonority. The American conductor sounds as if he has the virus of the fin de siècle in his blood: his balance of beauty and brutality, of sexuality and mortality, is just right. Nimbus' sound is clear, but perhaps a little bit too analytical for Schreker's luminous music.


Rezension Classics Today von D. Hurwitz

A couple of decades ago there was a perfume brand whose slogan was "sensual, but not too far from innocence". Well, if ever a composer fit that description, it's Schreker. It's a pity that they never used his music to back the television commercials. Basically, Schreker's music is conservative: sweet tunes, harmonically traditional, and just a bit (as Berg noted) kitschy. But he surrounds these tried-and-true elements with the most extravagant orchestration: swirling strings murmur hypnotically, percussion and celesta tintinnabulations speckle the texture until it glitters, while harps add a sexy shimmer. Even in a piece like Der Wind, scored for chamber ensemble, Schreker's aural imagination is quite evident, always operating at the highest level. This is, in short, deliciously decadent music, wholly captivating and (best of all) never too long for its material. The five works included here represent Schreker's contributions to "Ausdruckstanz", a type of interpretive dance form pioneered in 1907 by the Wiesenthal sisters of Vienna. The Birthday of the Infanta has been recorded previously, both as here in its complete form, and more frequently as a suite, shorn of about 10 minutes of music (it lasts roughly half an hour). A couple more of these pieces (Valse Lente, in particular) also have appeared on previous releases, but this is the first disc to put all of Schreker's ballets for the Wiesenthal sisters together, and none of the competing performances is better played or better recorded. Conductor John Axelrod does a splendid job revealing the music's gleaming orchestration, and he has the Lucerne orchestra playing in an appropriately lush style, but without ever losing the feeling of the dance. The opening of Valse Lente is particularly magical and delicately done. Nimbus offers ideally warm, atmospheric sonics to match. Don't miss this disc, for any reason. It's absolutely luscious. [2/3/2006]

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