Schreker Der Schmied von Gent

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COMPOSERS: Franz Schreker
LABELS: CPO
ALBUM TITLE: Schreker Der Schmied von Gent
WORKS: Der Schmied von Gent
PERFORMER: Oliver Zwarg, Undine Dreissig, André Riemer, Edward Randall, Martin Gèbler, Judith Kuhn, Viktor Sawaley; Chemnitz Opera Chorus and Children’s Chorus; Robert Schumann Philharmonic/Frank Beermann
CATALOGUE NO: 7776472

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Der Schmied von Gent was the last opera of significance to have been staged during the Weimar Republic. It was first heard in Berlin in October 1932, only months before Hitler came to power, and became a victim of the turbulent political situation at the time. A virulent propaganda campaign against Franz Schreker was orchestrated by the Nazi press and the opera was removed after only five performances.

The opera’s principal protagonist is Smee, a Flemish blacksmith who after falling on hard times, gratefully accepts the help of the devil. Realising the folly of his action, he subsequently tries to outwit the devil, thanks to the intervention of St Joseph and the Virgin Mary, to ultimately find his way to heaven. With its references to the oppressive behaviour of the occupying Spanish forces, Schreker’s libretto exhibits obvious personal and political resonances. Yet his prime intention was to write a genuinely popular folk-opera that draws on several different musical styles. In this respect, the work juxtaposes simple, almost naïve diatonic melodies with passages of dense chromatic harmony and linear invention occasionally reminiscent of Hindemith. Allusions to Schreker’s earlier more luxuriant post-Romantic idiom are reserved for the music for the temptress Astarte and the heavenly choirs at the end of Act III.

This premiere recording, drawing on performances given at the Chemnitz Opera House in 2010, boasts a strongly committed cast, with Oliver Zwarg tackling the challenging role of Smee most effectively. Undine Dreissig, as Smee’s long-suffering wife, is occasionally prone to sing with a rather wide vibrato. Undoubtedly the most impressive contribution comes from the Robert Schumann Philharmonic and Frank Beermann, who negotiate the considerable intricacies of Schreker’s scoring with impressive virtuosity.

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Erik Levi