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COMPOSERS: Schreker/Toch
WORKS: Der Geburtstag der Infantin; Dance Suite
PERFORMER: Berlin Chamber Symphony/Jürgen Bruns
If decadence in art became for the Nazis a pejorative term and synonym for degeneracy, for audiences who lived through the era of Strauss, Schreker, Korngold and Zemlinsky it was a manifestation of the spirit of the times. Tawdry tales became the staple of operatic plots, from Salome to Lulu. The Birthday of the Infanta, Oscar Wilde’s sad little story about a dwarf given to a Spanish infanta as a present who commits suicide when she shows him how ugly he is, had a fascination for several composers. Franz Schreker composed this dance-pantomime on the subject in 1908; Zemlinsky’s opera on the story came 12 years later and in the meantime, Schreker himself adapted the ‘tragedy of the ugly man’ to his own ends in his opera Die Gezeichneten. A suite from the ballet has already appeared in Decca’s Entartete Musik series, but this is the first recording of the complete score. Although tarred with the same degenerate brush by the Nazis as Schreker, Ernst Toch’s Dance Suite is more an example of the so-called ‘New Objectivity’ that took over German music in the Twenties. The Berlin Chamber Symphony, founded only in 1990, makes a sterling case for the qualities of both works in this, its debut CD. Matthew Rye