Jenny Carlstedt performs Zemlinsky with the Lapland Chamber Orchestra

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COMPOSERS: Alexander von Zemlinsky
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Zemlinsky
WORKS: Seven Songs of Night and Dream; Chamber Symphony (arr. Dünser)
PERFORMER: Jenny Carlstedt (mezzo); Lapland Chamber Orchestra/John Storgårds
CATALOGUE NO: Ondine ODE 1272-2

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In contrast to his colleague Schoenberg, Alexander Zemlinsky was not attracted to writing works for large-scale chamber ensembles, preferring instead the rich sonorities of the late-Romantic symphony orchestra. Yet there’s little doubt that some of his music for more intimate forces works particularly well in orchestral guise. This is certainly the case with many of his early songs which are steeped in the tradition of Brahms but contain some exotic harmonies that seem closer to Mahler.

Austrian composer Richard Dünser has orchestrated seven of these miniatures to form a very convincing song cycle exploring the themes of night and dreams. Mezzo-soprano Jenny Carlstedt delivers Zemlinsky’s highly expressive vocal lines with great warmth and sensitivity, and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra under John Storgårds provides suitably intimate accompaniments. Dünser’s recasting of the epic Second String Quartet for the same instrumental forces as Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony is also effectively managed through some skilful doubling between the wind and string parts. Occasionally I wondered whether he could have created textures with a bit more contrapuntal transparency in the manner of Schoenberg, but this would probably have necessitated adding supplementary part-writing that is not in Zemlinsky’s original score. Nevertheless, the arrangement certainly conveys the Quartet’s fraught emotional intensity, and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra negotiates its technical challenges very convincingly, though some of the faster sections could have been projected with a greater sense of reckless abandon.

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Erik Levi