Schulhoff: Flammen

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schulhoff
LABELS: Decca Entartete Musik
WORKS: Flammen
PERFORMER: Kurt Westi, Jane Eaglen, Iris Vermillion, Johann-Werner Prein, Gerd Wolf; RIAS Chamber Choir, Deutsches SO, Berlin/John Mauceri
CATALOGUE NO: 444 630-2 DDD
Another ‘Entartete Musik’ revelation from Decca. Nothing in the rapidly expanding discography of Schulhoff’s music quite prepared me for the richness of invention in his opera, Flames. Schulhoff wrote this reworking of the Don Juan story in the Twenties; it was first performed in Brno in 1932 and then forgotten until last year, when this recording was made (its composer is listed in neither the Grove nor Viking opera guides). It is impossible to label as belonging to any one school, since its music ranges from Bergian expressionism to decadent voluptuousness, with nods to Busoni’s Doktor Faust and jazz thrown in for good measure. Dramatically, too, it is in a genre of its own: its two acts unfold in a dreamlike sequence of surreal seduction/encounter scenes, coming full circle at the end as the Don, who for Schulhoff was a man with a death wish, longing to escape from his libido, is condemned to live his tawdry life for ever (he even turns to the church for help and is seduced by a nun).

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The lead role of Juan is a challenging one, and tenor Kurt Westi encompasses it by the skin of his teeth. More secure is Jane Eaglen as the various objects of Juan’s lust and the marvellous Iris Vermillion as the seductive personification of Death; but the most truly beguiling contribution comes from the Deutsches SO, stunningly directed by Mauceri. Can we have a staging of Flammen now, please? Opera North? Matthew Rye