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Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Lyric Symphony, Op 18 (1921-3) [51.43]
(Texts by Rabindranath Tagore, tr. Hans Effenberger)
Christine Schäfer (soprano); Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. Maison ONDIF, Paris, 26 June 2005. DSD
CD tracks stereo 2.0; SACD stereo 2.0 and surround 5.0. Hybrid SACD
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français. Photos of artists, complete texts and translations.
CAPRICCIO SACD 71 081 [51.43]


Comparison recordings:
Varady, Fischer-Dieskau, Maazel, BPO DGG 419 261-2DH
Voight, Terfel, Sinopoli, VPO DG 449 179-2
Voight, Terfel, Sinopoli, VPO Musical Heritage Society 5161711 (North America only)
 
It was the composer himself who first spoke of his work as derivative of Mahler’s Song of the Earth, and the comparison with Schoenberg’s Gurre-lieder was obvious enough for others to make. Rabindranath Tagore, on tour in Europe after having won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, recited his poetry in Prague in Bengali in 1921 (We are indebted to the preface to the Universal Edition pocket score by Anthony Beaumont for this information.). Janáček and Zemlinsky were in the audience and were profoundly moved by this performance in a language they did not understand. They may have read the author’s published English translations or Hans Effenberger’s subsequent German translations. Zemlinsky selected numbers 5, 7, 30, 29, 48, 51 and 61 from Tagore’s anthology The Gardener outlining the progress of a love affair from initial hopefulness to final despair. There exists the possibility of an English language performance - or a Bengali performance - although I’ve never heard of one.
 
The Fischer-Dieskau recording is set at an incredibly high energy throughout, more like a “Thunderstorm Symphony”. Although the score marks the opening orchestral tutti fortissimo, the baritone’s entrance is marked piano. However Fischer-Dieskau comes on yelling his head off; the words in the text say, “I am restless,” not, “I am hysterical!” but Maazel and his soloists present a furious whirlwind of passionate emotion which does not relent. It’s an experience not to be missed, but in the final analysis probably not a valid rendering of the work, which is probably why that recording has been unavailable for some years now. Terfel, Voight, and Sinopoli present a more balanced and measured version, the soloists still sounding very “operatic”. Voight’s voice has a mezzo quality to it, a slight thickness. Terfel’s is rich and thrilling and — like Fischer-Dieskau — is magisterial even when the poetry is more personal and reflective in meaning and mood. The orchestral sound has a slightly shrill opacity to it as though some unfortunate microphoning has been salvaged by a little audio post-processing.
 
This new recording attains a thoughtful, at times reflective, mood with the orchestral accompaniment played with great precision and sensitivity, at a controlled volume which allows the soloists to sing quietly when appropriate. The soloists place the meaning of the text before all else, and the conductor shapes the orchestral accompaniment so as not to overpower the gentler phrases. This recording more than the others resembles the Mahler work; clearly what Zemlinsky had in mind, a “Lyrical Symphony,” achieving a deeply expressive mood.
 
Christine Schäfer having distinguished herself in stage performances of Berg’s Lulu and recordings of, among other composers, J. S. Bach, here amply confirms her eminent position as one of the finest artists before us today. She has the perfect Mahler voice, light and transparent, yet capable of deep expression and tremendous power. Matthias Goerne has the beauty, control, and immediacy of the young Fischer-Dieskau and he brings tremendous feeling to his interpretation. The orchestra plays precisely and responsively producing a rich multi-tonal texture to underlie the voices, never to overpower them. There is no sense of struggle or competition. The surround sound perspective places the soloists just in front of the center of the orchestra and the richness of orchestral detail is brilliantly revealed by the high resolution SACD sound.
 
Paul Shoemaker
 

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