Prior to the issue of Franz Schreker Conducts Schreker, Bizet, Grieg, it was far from being common knowledge that composer Franz Schreker recorded anything at all. Seemingly out of the blue comes this handsome three-disc set on Symposium containing all of Schreker's recordings spanning the years 1924-1932 and containing four instrumental works, one in two versions; excerpts from four operas; and his recorded interpretations of the music of others. Anyone who loves and collects the music of Schreker knows that even 70 years after his death the situation is more famine than feast, and as Symposium is partnering here with the Franz Schreker Foundation, both have ensured that the resultant set is comparatively like a nine-course meal with dessert.
As one might expect for a collection drawn from such a wide variety of sources, the sound quality runs the gamut from excellent to poor, although it should be mentioned that the transfer work throughout is of the highest professional caliber. The most immediately striking piece in terms of sound is an excellent fragment of a German radio broadcast of Schreker's one-act opera Das Spielwerk that could almost pass for something recorded in the 1950s -- sadly, it breaks off just short of five minutes' duration. On the other end of this spectrum is the 1923 acoustical recording of the Der Geburtstag der Infantin Suite; it is easy to see why Schreker was so unhappy with it, as only surface elements of his delicate and colorful orchestration flitter in and out of a perspective that is, for the most part, sonic mud. Schreker had a second crack at this work in 1927, with far superior results; this set confirms that Schreker was intensely concerned about the sound quality of recordings, perhaps the only conductor of that age other than Leopold Stokowski who worked consistently toward this end. Schreker composed the Kleine Suite in 1929 specifically for broadcast on radio, grouping the instruments around the microphone according to its sensitivity -- in this respect he was foreseeing what Raymond Scott would do with his Quintette nearly a decade later.
This set also includes a generous number of recordings by Schreker's wife Maria Schreker, an amazing singer whose style fell somewhere between a pop voice and an operatic one. This recording will be of great value to vocalists who are considering taking up Schreker's operas such as Der ferne klang; clearly a singer who plays to the third balcony is simply not appropriate in such spacey, other-worldly operatic literature. In releasing Franz Schreker Conducts Schreker, Bizet, Grieg, Symposium and the Franz Schreker Foundation have not merely reissued a batch of old, but thematically linked, set of recordings, but they have thus made available an entire field of study to the public. This is what German music might have been had it not been clobbered to death by National Socialism, and collectors who specialize in historical fare will doubtless want to save their pennies to obtain this outstanding collection.