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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
CD 1
Die Seejungfrau (1905) [44:14]
Sinfonietta op. 23 (1934) [22:31]
CD 2
Lyrische Symphonie op. 18 (1923) [45:23]
Sarema - Vorspiel (1934) [5:43]
Es war einmal - Vorspiel 1. Akt (1899) [5:29]; Zwischenspiel 1. Akt [5:04];
Kleider machen Leute - Walzer-Intermezzo 1. Akt [4:15]; Zwischenspiel 2. Akt [4:08];
Der Kreidekreis - Vorspiel zum 3. Akt (1931) [2:16]
Die König Kandaules Vorspiel zum 3. Akt (1935-36) [5:42]
CD 3
Cymbeline - suite (1915) [15:55]
Frühlingsbegräbnis (1896-1903) [24:16]
Ein Tanzpoem (1901) [35:10]
Soile Isokoski (soprano); Bo Skovhus (baritone); (Symphonie)
Deborah Voigt (soprano); Donnie Ray Albert, David Kuebler (tenor); Chor der Stätischen Musikverein zu Düsseldorf (Tanzpoem)
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/James Conlon
rec. CD1: 13-14, 20-22, 24 March 1999, Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln; CD2: 23-28 August 2001, Köln, Philharmonie; CD3: 20-22 October 1997, Köln, Philharmonie. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 5 09456 2 [3 CDs: 67:07 + 78:19 + 77:04]
Experience Classicsonline

EMI's groundbreaking Zemlinsky orchestral cycle of the 1990s followed and complemented Capriccio's operatic project. Other companies had made forays into the Zemlinsky catalogue and the Lyric Symphony seemed to be the bellweather being recorded several times by various companies including Italia, Koch and Arte Nova.

Zemlinsky had enjoyed attention with his chamber music via the Lasalle Quartet and DGG in the 1970s - surely a natural for Brilliant Classics to license. However it took the resurgence of interest in romantic impressionism to boost Zemlinsky's name alongside those of Franz Schmidt and Franz Schreker up the pioneering revival list. I remember taping various radio broadcasts of the operas (Gerd Albrecht in Hamburg) and the symphony (Gielen, BBCSO, Söderström, Allen) and listening to these again and again. And I confess I did this - in the case of the operas - without access to a libretto.

Here in very respectable sound we encounter a shaggily oceanic-romantic Die Seejungfrau based on Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Mermaid'. It's a work I have known since the dawn of the CD when I picked up a copy of Chailly's 1987 Decca disc (417 450-2). There are also Chandos versions by Beaumont and Dausgaard. Wagnerian, delicate, tempestuous and diaphanous it's an extravagant score which lay in obscurity until - as Peter Levi reminds us in this programme note - it was revived by Peter Gülke and the Austrian Youth Orchestra in 1984. Die Seejungfrau dates from the 1900s but was withdrawn when Schoenberg produced his Pelleas and Melisande. Three decades later came the Sinfonietta (1934) - a work admired by Alban Berg. It's a noticeably leaner work: just as delicate with busily extending tendrils of themes and motifs. It's also a more economically expressed work spanning half the length of Die Seejungfrau yet also in three movements. It's tender and largely avoids the curdled extremes of the Second Viennese school.

The Lyric Symphony sets poems by Rabindranath Tagore - a poet much admired and much set amongst musicians including Frank Bridge. The recording is very good indeed but lacks the pellucid clarity of the Antony Beaumont version on Chandos and the Chailly on a Decca double set. Skovhus and Isokoski are intelligent singers.

The operatic orchestral morsels come next. The prelude to Sarema (1897) is Wagnerian - a touch of Meistersinger here - and not as impressionist or as sophisticated as the Lyric Symphony. Two extracts from Es war einmal reminded me of Delius's lambent and tender writing in the opera's Vorspiel but took me back to the Meistersinger apprentice march in the Zwischenspiel. Kleider machen leute is represented by the Walzer-intermezzo and the Zwischenspiel. In the former the exuberant writing fades in and out while in the gawky glittering carousel that is the Zwischenspiel there are Weill-like moments. The Act III Vorspiel to the opera Der Kreidekreis is fairly dry. König Kandaules (Act 3 prelude) reflects the development of Zemlinsky's language into a boiling expressionist whirlpool.

The final disc in this attractive set groups the 1901 orchestral Ein Tanzpoem with Frühlingsbegräbnis and the Cymbeline Suite. The latter score is featured in better sound and more extensively on an admirable Chandos Zemlinsky disc. Donnie Ray Albert is an eager tenor in Lied des Cloten in which he is sweetly supported by the solo violin. Fanfares echo back and forth and moods and scenes are vividly suggested. Frühlingsbegräbnis is not otherwise available. This cantata to words by Paul Heyse tracks a cortege of animals and fairy folk. As he was orchestrating the work he heard of the death of Brahms and dedicated it to Brahms. This is a delicate yet luxuriously romantic setting that sighs and yearns. There is a prominent sunset-gold role for the choir in Also so weihevoll ... The Tanzpoem is light and playful of step and swoopingly woodland romantic across its three movements. The courtly fanfares and cortege of the final movement of the Tanzpoem are confident, lush, mysterious, swayingly terpsichorean, saturatedly romantic, leisurely and discursive. The steady majestic pace at the end rings out both sovereign and imperious.

This is a very useful set indeed if you do not already have the original discs. Those CDC originals still turn up on ebay so do look out for them. Be warned though, no texts are provided in this EMI triple and it is a little extravagant with shelf space. Several works here are now available only in this format.

The other parts of the Gürzenich/Conlon cycle include:-
•  Symphonies 1 and 2 CDC 556473 2
•  Seejungfrau/Sinfonietta CDC 555515 2
•  Cymbeline/Tanzpoem/Frühlingsbegrabnis CDC 556474 2
•  complete songs with orchestra CDC 557024 2
•  Eine Florentinische Tragödie - opera CDC 556472 2
•  Der Zwerg (aka Der Geburtstag Der Infantin) - opera CMS 566247 2
•  Traumgörge - opera CDS5 57087 2
•  complete Choral Works CDC 556783 2

EMI Classics really should issue a Collector's Edition of the complete Zemlinsky-Conlon-Gürzenich series. Alternatively why not license every scrap of that series to Brilliant Classics who should also consider an opera box using the numerous entries in the Capriccio series.

A desperately neglected lavish late-romantic well worth discovering.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Anne Ozorio


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