Zemlinsky: Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid); Sinfonietta, Op. 23 (arr. Freisitzer)

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COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid); Sinfonietta, Op. 23 (arr. Freisitzer)
PERFORMER: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/ John Storgårds


Zemlinsky’s opulently scored symphonic fantasy Die Seejungfrau has had a rather chequered performance history. Premiered successfully in Vienna in 1905 alongside Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande, it only enjoyed a limited number of further performances in the first decade of the 20th century before being withdrawn by the composer. The work was then rediscovered in the 1980s, 40 years after Zemlinsky’s death, and it soon established itself as one of the composer’s most popular works.

A new critical edition of the score published in 2013, prepared by conductor and scholar Antony Beaumont, forms the basis for this new Ondine release, restoring at least five minutes of music to the second movement that had been inexplicably suppressed by the composer. This reinstated section, portraying the mermaid’s encounter with the sea-witch, is harmonically daring and provides a welcome dramatic intensification in a score that is frequently lyrical and contemplative in character. The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under John Storgårds, captured in stunning SACD sound, delivers a suave and subtly nuanced performance perhaps lacking some of the warmth of Beaumont’s recording on Chandos or the emotional intensity of Chailly on Decca (currently unavailable).

The coupling of the much later and more harmonically acerbic Sinfonietta, as arranged for chamber orchestra by the Austrian composer Roland Freisitzer, is more questionable. While Freisitzer’s reduced scoring is skilfully done, it seems illogical for it to be performed by a full orchestra, especially when the Helsinki Philharmonic surely has the forces at its disposal to give us the work in its original scoring.


Erik Levi