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Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Lyric Symphony Op. 18 (1921) [43.40]
Cymbeline - Incidental Music (1913-15) [26.30]
Turid Karlsen (sop)
Jaroslav Březina (ten)

Franz Grundheber (bar)
Members of Bremen Shakespeare Company (Cymbeline)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Antony Beaumont
rec. Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 14-19 May 2002. DDD

CHANDOS CHAN 10069 [70.23]


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Beaumont is probably better known as an author of books on Busoni and Zemlinsky than as a conductor. He has also provided completions of Busoni's Doktor Faust and Zemlinsky's Der König Kandaules. His conductorial reputation is circumscribed by his interests around the Schrecker-Zemlinsky generation. Thus he is the conductor of various Capriccio Zemlinsky opera sets. In 2001 he launched an intended Zemlinsky series on Nimbus. This comprised a single disc with the Symphony in B flat, the Prelude to Es War Einmal and the late Sinfonietta. The orchestra was once again the Czech Philharmonic. That recording was made in the very same Dvořák Hall as the present Chandos disc. Those sessions were in January 2001. Fifteen months later Beaumont was back in the same hall to make this recording.

Zemlinsky was strongly associated with the Czech Phil and conducted them at Vaclav Talich's invitation in Mahler 6 in 1923. He had conducted the Bohemian Phil in Mahler 5 two years previously. He reciprocated by introducing Berlin audiences to Janáček's Glagolitic Mass and Lachian Dances as well as Suk's Asrael and Novak's Serenade. In 1935-37 Zemlinsky and Talich presented all the Mahler symphonies and Das Lied with the Czech Phil. There is then an emotional symmetry in that this great orchestra, found in good form, now record the music of the composer who once conducted them. And there is more to come. The notes indicate that there are to be two more Chandos discs in this series each anchored by one of Zemlinsky’s symphonic works. I wonder if one of them will use the Nimbus tapes.

In the case of the Lyrische Symphonie the most demanding listeners will note some congestion at the climaxes which Chandos accommodates with easy transparency. Take the sound of the horns in tr.2 at 4.58 which are clear but recessed and slightly mistily focussed for Chailly (Decca twofer) yet stand clear in sharp focus in the Chandos. Although Zemlinsky promoted the Symphonie as a work ‘after Mahler's Das Lied’ there are few parallels between the two. While the Tagore poems chart the trajectory of an affair the Bethge translations are more varied and solitary in subject matter. Marc, for Decca, sounds beautiful if rather thickly laid on by comparison with Turid Karlsen. On balance I favour Karlsen who is more shantung silk than theatrical armour plate. Her less adipose tone is preferred although Marc makes a most lovely sound; closer to Ferrier than to Davrath or Teyte.

Zemlinsky delivers a peculiarly cauterised form of blissful romanticism. His touch, at least at this stage in his career, is that of a jewelled pointilliste. Listen to the lizard slide of the violins at 4,.04 in tr. 2. Franz Grundheber has a heroic and harshly ringing voice. His delivery is gusty and gutsy with sails fully bowed and stretched. Listen to the glorious way he rolls and relishes the words O fernstes ende. In the second song Mutter, der junge Prinz, at 1.50, the violins slide and rise up on the words von weiten i.e. ‘from afar’ and the song ends in a catterwauling torture of striving. The solo violin plays an important part throughout; not quite Sheherazade but certainly a tender commentator. Du bist die Abendwolke opens in horn-wildness accented like the brass writing in Suk’s Asrael. The tone of those Czech horns is so familiar and effective. In Befrei’ mich von banden the Czech Phil display palpable attack in the strings [0.45]. In Vollende denn das letzte Lied the orchestra articulate a raucous roar of pain merged with disillusion. The final song, Zemlinsky’s Abschied offers a strange comfort as the lovers part, all passion erased, and replaced with a replete tiredness. Tagore’s final words have the one-time lover holding high his lamp to ‘light you on your way’. The piece ends in superbly captured orchestral textures where the valedictory sighs of the string section are contrasted with the softly yelped pianissimo of the muted trumpet.

This disc appears on a momentarily crowded scene. Ian Lace has very recently reviewed the versions with Dorothy Dorow and Siegmund Nimsgern (BBCSO/Gabriele Ferro;Warner Fonit 0927 43405-2, 1978 originally on an Italia label LP) and Vlatka Orsanic and James Johnson (SWFSO/Michael Gielen; Arte Nova 74321 27768 2, 1994) and pronounced judgement in favour of the Gielen. There is also the Chailly Decca double at midprice. Beaumont's coupling is the incidental music to Cymbeline recorded complete for the first time. The others either have no coupling or are very modestly coupled. A very generous Zemlinsky conspectus is provided by the Chailly/Decca double which has good notes but no texts (the same goes for Ferro and Gielen). The Chandos CD is superbly documented with full texts and translations. The Chandos also has a small edge as the first recording of Beaumont's own corrected urtext of the score based on his own scholarship among parts, mss and correction sheets. From that point of view the other recordings of the Symphonie are not in competition at all.

The Cymbeline music written during the years straddling the start of the Great War is all rather attractive in a clouded indeterminate way. Part of this is presented as a radio play with actors speaking the lines. Their voices are placed in velvety proximity to the listener. The style is modest though not monochrome. There is however none of the high-flown superheated delivery of the speakers in Fibich’s Hippodamia trilogy (Supraphon). The moods encompassed include mischief afoot in the mist, fanfares in the middle distance (tr.13) and the sense of Odysseyan travails. The flutter-tongued flutes in tr. 13 are very affecting and highly atmospheric. There are moments too that suggest that Zemlinsky might have trounced Waxman had he only taken an interest in Hollywood film. The surging antiphonal trumpetry is suggestive of Waxman (Prince Valiant in the still unequalled Gerhardt RCA recording) with pennants blowing and snapping in wind.

Being a Chandos production the full texts are there in German with French in the lefthand column and English the righthand.

Rob Barnett

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