Schreker • Zemlinsky
Schreker: Der Geburtstag der Infantin; Zemlinsky: Die Seejungfrau
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Onyx ONYX 4197 78:20 mins
Alexander Zemlinsky’s attitude to his opulently scored Die Seejungfrau, (The Mermaid) remains something of a mystery. After its successful 1905 premiere in Vienna, there were a few more performances in the first decade of the 20th century before he not only withdrew the work from circulation, but even suppressed all mention of its existence.
Yet since its rediscovery in the 1980s, Die Seejungfrau has become one of Zemlinsky’s most widely admired works – a position that has only intensified in recent years thanks to the publication of a new critical edition of the score which restores five minutes of music in the second movement that he removed even before its premiere. This intensely powerful section, depicting the mermaid’s fateful encounter with a sea-witch, provides vital dramatic contrast in an otherwise mainly lyrical and contemplative work.
Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO deliver a tremendously compelling and vivid performance of this expanded score. While revelling in the lushness and subtlety of the orchestration, both conductor and orchestra maintain a tight grip on the ebb and flow of the musical argument so essential in a work that can otherwise sound unduly discursive. This warmly recorded version not only goes to the top of the tree as the most satisfying account of Zemlinsky’s score in the current catalogue, but also trumps its closest rivals in offering the most apposite and brilliantly performed coupling of Franz Schreker’s colourful ballet score Der Geburtstag der Infantin, an Oscar Wilde fairytale which coincidentally Zemlinsky fashioned into an opera in the early 1920s.