Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Albrecht
Pentatone PTC 5186 740 47:30 mins
Alexander von Zemlinsky’s only symphonic poem has a strange history. Completed in 1905, it was conducted by its composer in Vienna that year, then in Berlin and Prague. It was not heard again until more than 40 years after Zemlinsky’s death in 1942 in New York, where he had taken the unpublished score’s second and third movements with him, the first having long since been left with a Viennese colleague.
Zemlinsky’s evidently complex feelings about his work – based on Hans Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid, with its theme of unrequited love – may have related to his thwarted romantic relationship with Alma Schindler (who had dumped him to become Alma Mahler). He surely cannot have seriously doubted the score’s musical qualities, which shine throughout this fine live recording. Compared to the strong projection of Mahler’s or Richard Strauss’s brand of late Romanticism, Zemlinsky’s idiom might seem understated by comparison, but the work has an unmistakable cumulative power, and its iridescent orchestration is as beautiful as anyone’s. While the orchestra here is not as lustrous-toned as Zemlinsky would have reckoned on in the Vienna he knew, the players rise impressively to the score’s intricate technical demands, and Albrecht’s conducting has superb sweep and sureness of purpose.