Zemlinsky: Symphony in B flat; Prelude to Es war einmal; Sinfonietta, Op. 23

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COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Symphony in B flat; Prelude to Es war einmal; Sinfonietta, Op. 23
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Antony Beaumont
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5682
It was an inspired feat of programme planning to invite the Czech Philharmonic to record this programme. The connection can be justified on purely historical grounds in that Zemlinsky forged a close working relationship with the orchestra during his tenure at Prague’s Neues Deutsches Theater in the Twenties. But there are also textural advantages in hearing Zemlinsky’s music performed by this highly esteemed ensemble. In particular the orchestra’s distinctive instrumental timbres bring an extra degree of translucence to Zemlinsky’s scoring. Nowhere is this more effectively realised than in the post-Brahmsian B flat major Symphony, where the rustic woodwind writing (heard at its best in the lovely trio of the scherzo) provides an admirable foil to the warmth of the strings. Zemlinsky scholar Antony Beaumont delivers a far more committed account of this early work than James Conlon on EMI, though there are occasional unsteady moments such as the violin flourishes of the slow movement where a retake would have been welcome.

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There are a few untidy moments in the rest of the programme (for example between figures 26 and 27 of the finale of the Sinfonietta). But by and large, the orchestra copes admirably with some extremely difficult writing. Beaumont certainly puts them through their paces, choosing blistering tempi for the outer movements of the deeply unsettling Sinfonietta, but he is equally successful in projecting the chilling numbness of the central Ballade. With Nimbus’s engineers reproducing the glorious ambience of Prague’s Rudolfinum to a tee, this release deserves strong support. Erik Levi