This Farao Classics disc features the Swiss Musikollegium Winterthur Orchestra under cellist-turned-conductor Heinrich Schiff in two major, but rarely recorded works of the early twentieth century, Franz Schreker's Chamber Symphony (1916) and Ernst Krenek's Violin Concerto (1924) featuring Hanna Weinmeister as soloist. Schreker's Chamber Symphony was written in the midst of the First World War and it represents a transitional phase between the late idiom of Mahler and something more nebulous and challenging. Krenek's first concerto sounds for all the world like a tersely concentrated twelve-tone composition of the highest order, and yet, it is not -- it predates his efforts in serial technique and demonstrates that Krenek was already thinking along those lines independently before adopting them.
The name Musikollegium Winterthur may seem unfamiliar, but the orchestra is not -- it is the ensemble formerly known as the Stadtorchester Winterthur. It sure took a long time for the German label Farao to get this one out -- it was recorded in 2000, and Heinrich Schiff had already moved on to accept his post with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra by the time this disc appeared in 2004. Farao's recording is top drawer, with an excellent sense of clarity and perspective on this small group that sounds like a big one, although some very quiet passages drop a bit below the level of listening comfort. The performances are tight and disciplined, and Weinmeister certainly has the Krenek under her fingers.
Nevertheless, despite all of these positive attributes, there is something deeply boring about the disc -- it has everything but the spark of inspiration needed to lift this recording above the handful of others made of these works. The performances are dutiful and correct without being particularly passionate and in such unfamiliar music one requires the dedication that true advocacy brings to the table. Schiff's conducting of the Schreker is reminiscent of Herbert von Karajan's renderings of Second Vienna School orchestral music; Karajan recorded those works as Deutsche Grammophon asked for them, but he made no secret of the fact that he detested such music, and you can hear it in the result. Whereas the Krenek should sparkle, what sparkle that is discernible here is more like the steely glint of reflected chromium. English speakers will have to labor to get through the English liner notes in the booklet, as they are execrably translated. It is worth knowing these works, but this is not the right vehicle.