Great art is about
increasing understanding. Good artists
are driven to seek something original
and perceptive in what they do: it is
that creative integrity that marks good
performance, and a constant search for
improvement and insight.
This is a ground-breaking
recording, not only because of its high
quality, but because it is informed
by recent discoveries about Zemlinsky
and his style. In the last twenty years,
Zemlinsky studies have advanced so much
that there is no excuse for superficial
clichés. Even the score of this
symphony has been edited to better reflect
the composerís intentions. Beaumontís
pioneering recording of 2003 might have
been a breakthrough because he is by
far the most perceptive of Zemlinsky
scholars. However, it suffered from
performances that were rather under
par. No such worries with this new recording,
which is stunningly good on all counts.
In the 1920s, Tagoreís
mysticism represented a radical alternative
to the mores of western society. It
was exotic, but it also fitted in with
progressive western ideas on art and
society. Zemlinsky adapted Tagoreís
idea of a "Wheel of Life"
and gave his symphony a circular structure
within which motifs recur like wheels
within wheels. Itís an original concept.
Moreover, he combines the richness of
his imagery with avant-garde musical
ideas. Heís no obtuse pseudo-Wagnerian
but a modernist, between, so to speak,
Mahler and the Second Viennese School.
Unlike Mahlerís Das
Lied von der Erde, where concepts
are expressed through imagery with people,
the Lyric Symphony focuses on
two central figures. Yet because this
is not opera, characterization only
exists to reinforce interpretation Ė
the parts arenít "roles" per
se, except in a symbolic, conceptual
way. The Lyric Symphony is certainly
not "opera" but a symphony
in which song is part of its architecture.
This performance shows
with penetrating clarity just how imaginative
Zemlinskyís writing was. No muddy meandering
here. Eschenbach and his soloists have
thought the whole symphony through.
This is an interpretation with vivid
insights, gained not only from the score
itself, but informed by an understanding
of the music of his time. Quite frankly,
it raises the bar, and becomes the benchmark
for performances in the future.
Thus those rich drum-rolls
that lead into the symphony "are"
an announcement of things to come, as
drum-rolls should be Ė quite literally
a "curtain raiser" for a cosmic
adventure. Immediately, refreshingly
clear brass introduces the three note
figure that recurs in myriad guises
through the symphony. Then, softly,
out of the orchestra, the baritoneís
voice enters, quietly but with intense
depth and feeling. "Ich bin friedlos"
- a variant of the three note figure.
Goerne is still under forty, still not
at the peak of his powers, and yet itís
hard to imagine any singer delivering
such authority and nuance to these words.
The way he curls his voice around the
vowels is utterly delicious Ė "
Meine Seele schweift in Sensucht, den
Saum der dunkeln Weite zu berühten".
You donít need a word of German to enjoy
the richness of his tone. If you do
have German, itís even more luscious.
Since Zemlinsky was working with the
German translation, ignore the English
translation given which dates from 1925
(it suggests "listless" for
"ruhlos", for example). This
music is anything but listless. It reflects
the overwhelming "thirst"
in the text for distant, unknown horizons
and the "Great Beyond". Goerne
sings "Ich bin voll Verlangen"
with eagerness, then shapes the next
words "und wachsam" with warm,
rounded, sensuality. Itís delicious
to hear two different, but valid feelings,
in the space of a few seconds. Make
no mistake, this music is about seeking
new things, striving for knowledge.
A lovely skittish violin
solo introduces the second movement.
Schäferís voice with its pure,
light quality expresses youth better
than most of the sopranos whoíve sung
this part. Dorow was lovely, but matronly
and mature. She may sound almost breathless
with excitement, but sheís far too assured
a singer to lose the musical line, "Mutter,
der jungeÖ.", where the vowels
underline each other. For the first
time we hear an almost Bergian leap
in the voice, when Zemlinsky decorates
the line "Zieg mir, wie soll mein
HaarÖ". Both the image and the
sudden leap will recur later in the
symphony. For the moment, Schäfer
colours it with warmth, as though blossoming
into womanhood before our ears. The
music illustrating the exotic procession
is one of the rare overtly "oriental"
touches Zemlinsky indulges in. In the
tumultuous postlude, the full orchestra
surges forth, complete with drums and
cymbals, yet the echoes of the three
note theme gradually assert themselves
as the soprano song blends seamlessly
into the next baritone entry. Thereís
no narrative, we never discover how
the girl and prince meet, if they do
at all. The erotic tension and waves
of sound owe much to Wagner, but also
to Berg and Schoenberg. Goerneís singing
in the third movement is some of the
most beautiful in the whole symphony.
It is quite breathtakingly sensitive
and nuanced. "Du bist mein Eigen,
mein Eigen ", he repeats, each
time with intense, but nuanced feeling.
These notes, too, are repeated throughout
the symphony .
The fourth movement
expands the symphony into new territory.
Again, an exquisite violin solo sets
the mood, which deepens with cellos
and violas. Schäferís voice cleanly
rings out "Sprichtís du mir!".
The vocal line is tender, yet also discordant,
with frequent sudden leaps in pitch
which are decidedly modern. So, too,
is the indeterminate tonality, creating
at once lushness and unreality. The
music seems to hover as if it were the
stuff of dreams and the unconscious.
Itís atmospheric, pure chromatic impressionism.
There are murmurs of the line "Sprichtís
du mir", and again the painfully
beautiful violin, and sinister, dark
woodwind. This song may be sensual,
but itís no excuse for sentimental indulgence,
and the orchestra plays with well judged
reticence. . It is, after all, a movement
about stillness and silence. "Nur
die Bäume werden im Dunkel flüstern"
(only the trees will whisper in the
The fanfare with which
the fifth movement starts seems to drive
away the strange mood that had prevailed
before. It may seem relatively conventional
music but this is emotionally amorphous
territory. When the sixth movement starts,
thereís no mistaking the modernism here.
Horn and bass clarinet inject a darker,
discordant mood. Schäferís extensive
experience in new music means she copes
effortlessly with those sudden tonal
swoops while still keeping sensual beauty.
She makes "mein gierigen Hände"
sound genuinely eager. This is Ewartung,
minus the harsh dementia, and all the
more complex for that. Instead the mood
of reverie is rocked away by a gently
rhythmic melody, as the singer becomes
aware "Träume lassen sich
nicht eingefangen" (dreams canít
be made captive). Only then does the
voice rise in horror, punctuated by
a single, fatal drum-stroke. Has it
all been an illusion? Itís not clear,
nor on what level, but thatís what makes
it so intriguing. Zemlinsky wisely leaves
the ideas floating. Instead, he lets
the music segue, mysteriously, into
the final movement.
This final song is
full of interpretative possibilities.
The protagonist accepts that the affair
is at an end, yet is dignified and positive.
"Lass es nicht eine Tod sein, sondern
Vollendung" (let it not be a death,
but completeness). Even love is sublimated
in creative rebirth. "Lass Liebe
in Erinnírung schmelzen und Schmerz
in lieder". The calmness and dignity
with which Goerne sings confirms that,
in this performance, the man has reached
that "Great Beyond" he sang
of in the first movement and has found
the horizons he was seeking. This time,
the violin returns, playing a sweet,
plaintive melody, while the orchestra
echoes the word "Vollendung, Vollendung".
Then thereís another transition. A warmer
note, like a breeze, enters on the strings,
and the wavering half-tones resolve
from minor, gradually, to major. With
infinite depth, Goerne sings that last
phrase "ich halte meine Lampe in
die Höhe, um dir auf deinen Weg
zu leuchten". "Zu leuchten"
is sung with such goodwill, that you
feel that whoever embarks on the next
phase will be going armed with the knowledge
and faith already gained. The postlude
is led by a distant woodwind, a reference
to the flute that called in the very
beginning of this journey. There are
echoes, too, of the "Du bist mein
Eigen" theme, emphasizing the sense
of fulfillment. Gradually the wavering
half-tones resolve, and the music moves
from minor to major, concluding in another
shimmering plane of colour. .
Anthony Beaumont, in
his analysis of the symphony, said "often
the singers are engulfed in a dark forest
of orchestral filigree work. In performance,
the score requires Mozartian grace and
precision. For all its abandon, this
music reveals its true beauty and power
only in performed with discipline and
cool headed restraint". Eschenbach
recognizes its profoundly Bergian qualities,
keeping the textures clear, letting
them shimmer through unsullied. He doesnít
mistake sensuality for an excuse in
indulgence: on the contrary, itís the
very purity of the orchestral playing
that sheds light on the dynamics of
the scoring. The soloistsí voices complement
each other perfectly, and are in turn
complemented by the elegance of the
The main disappointments
come in the booklet notes where there
are statements not borne out by recent
knowledge, such as Zemlinsky was a "loser
in love" which was true, but the
Lyric Symphony was a tribute
to his beloved (and youthful) friend
Luise who was to make him blissfully
happy when they married.
This year has brought
a remarkable harvest of good recordings,
but without hesitation, I would suggest
that this one will be my Recording of
the Year. The performances and insights
are so profound that this recording
will stand the test of time.. It has
taught me so much, even though I Ďm
pretty familiar with Zemlinsky. This
will be the touchstone for decades to
come, like a "lamp held on high,
in order to light (our) way".
see also review
by Paul Shoemaker