Naxos' super budget price allows the adventurous to explore unfamiliar music. This new release (originally available on Naxos' sister label Marco Polo) allows one to assess the influence of Zemlinsky on his pupil Erich Wolfgang Korngold. This may be most apparent in the substantial opening movement and in the scherzo of Zemlinsky's Second Symphony of 1896. The first movement has a forthright grandeur and more than a suggestion of Wagner with its grand theatrical gestures; music that suggests contrasts between the heroics of the battlefield and the glitter and romance of Viennese ballrooms with, perhaps, the odd stroll down the by-ways of folk music. The following scherzo, bounding and bouncy, continues in a mood of chivalry and romance so much so that images of Pre-Raphaelite paintings filled my imagination. Alas the succeeding Adagio, slightly Mahlerian, and tender as it is, and the concluding ominous final movement, do not have the same level of inspiration.
The First Symphony of 1892 is shorter and less well structured. The opening movement, grandiose and ominous, is followed by a lively and graceful scherzo and a finale that is a curious, sometimes simultaneous, mix of the lyrical and elements of shadowy conflict. It is not helped by a sound that is somewhat recessed and unfocussed.
Worth purchasing, especially at budget price, for the adventurous music by the man who taught Korngold.