Songs that took Strauss to court
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even if you possess a lingering fondness for Strauss lieder, you are unlikely to know the song cycle of 12 lieder entitled Kramerspigel, which consists of twelve satirical works full of hollow pathos and biting irony. This is an unusual mode for Strauss, and the Kramerspiegel deviate very far from his usual lyric effusions. There's a story here. In 1903 a German music publisher commissioned six songs from Strauss, who after some disputation with them refused to compose the songs. Yes passed, during which he grew irked at their repeated insistence. In 1918, h hit upon the idea of writing songs that satirize music publishers by name, describing them as frauds, cheaters, and hypocrites. Suitable texts were produced by a theater critic named Alfred Kerr, and the resulting cycle is a most peculiar production. One of its features is the use of long piano introductions that lead to snippy, abrupt singing parts. Imagine Beckmesser being updated with bitter wit, a dash of the mocking music for the Jewish fathers in Salome, and cruel dissonances from Elektra. Peter Schreier could hardly be bettered in this startling combination of petulance, gorgeous melodies, and witty misdirection. The court case alluded to in my headline resulted because the publishers were not pleased and sued Strauss to fulfill the original contract by giving them "normal" songs. The Kramerspiegel were banned for decades and only came into the concert hall after WW II. Even so, they remain all but unknown.
The second half of this CD consists of far more familiar fare, in the form of various selected songs, including the ubiquitous Morgen! and Allerseelen. In 1981 Schreier's voice wasn't as edgy and fierce in tone as it was soon to become -- his was never the most mellifluous lyric tenor -- and his musical intelligence is a constant delight. His singing, in fact, is touchingly tender at many points. The accompanist, Norman Shetler, is also stylish and assured. All in all, an out of the way discovery that I thoroughly enjoyed."