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FRANZ SCHREKER - Irrelohe - Stefan Blunier (Conductor) - Beethoven Orchester Bonn - Roman Sadnik (tenor), Ingeborg Greiner (soprano), Daniela Denschlag (mezzo), Mark Morouse (baritone), Mark Rosenthal (tenor), Valentin Jar (tenor), Piotr Micinski (bass), Ramaz Chikviladze (bass), Rafael Bruck (baritone), Martin Tzonev (bass), Boris Beletskiy (bass), Johannes Marx (bass), Josef Michael Linnek (tenor), Chor des Theater Bonn - Hybrid SACD 3-Disc Set - 760623168760 - Released: November 2011 - MDG 9371687

A dramatic opera in 3 acts by Franz Schreker (1878-1934), Irrelohe not only presents a powerful and complex story, but its masterful score actually pulls you deeper and deeper into its grasp. A previous recording from 1995 on Sony is no longer in the active catalogues, so this new 'live' recording is pretty well the sole representative of this engaging work.

As the booklet notes by Janine Ortiz clearly point out, "the plot hinges on uncovering a crime that everyone knew about but never mentioned. (On a mountain there stands a gloomy castle - Irrelohe, the seat of a noble family that bears a curse. All the male offspring, it is said, sooner or later assault a woman and go mad.) The tension is maintained scene after scene by the varying degree to which the characters know the details. Irrelohe is nonetheless more than the musical version of a trashy novel. The gloomy story also provides the framework for a confrontation between two extreme variations of human existence, two attitudes to life that are inherently in conflict. The force of formal constraints brings order into the world, enables communication and social interaction. The opposite force is primal life. That is not governed by any morality, law or order. The jungle is its model, the swamp its breeding ground. This force is approached in a state of ecstatic oblivion."

Now imagine a potent narrative like this driven forward by the music of a composer whose style and orchestration skills very much resemble that of Richard Strauss, includes a few Mahlerian gestures, and fuses the textual drama and characterful music together so well that you feel compelled to listen, and you can't but stop and focus your attention for a full 127 minutes. The writing is constantly assured, not only during the strictly orchestral segments of the work, but even when playing the supporting role to the singers. Now with a sordid storyline like this, Franz Schreker could easily have resorted to a horror-film style of bombastic tricks and tension clichés, but his writing skills are such that simple motivic twists and orchestral colors set the proper atmosphere.

Conductor Stefan Blunier, the Beethoven Orchester Bonn members and the cast of singers and choir, certainly get caught up in the action, and as this is a 'live' recording, reinforce the tension as it builds throughout the opera. The one and only drawback to this excellent production, is that the libretto does not include translation from the German text. A minor quibble when you consider that this is a brand new recording, in Hybrid SACD no less, of an exceptional 20th century opera.

Jean-Yves Duperron - January 2012