Zemlinsky: Orchestral songs (complete)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Orchestral songs (complete)
PERFORMER: Soile Isokoski (soprano), Violeta Urmana (mezzo-soprano), Andreas Schmidt, Michael Volle (baritone); Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra/James Conlon
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 57024 2
Like his three Psalms, Zemlinsky’s orchestral songs traverse very distinctive phases of the composer’s career. The earliest examples, dating from the turn of the century, tread a fine line between the opposing influences of Wagner and Brahms, and include world-premiere recordings of two songs orchestrated with great sensitivity by Antony Beaumont and the highly original ‘Waldgespräch’ – a more dramatic interpretation of Eichendorff’s poem than the famous setting by Schumann in his Op. 39 Liederkreis. There’s also a tantalisingly brief fragment of a Richard Dehmel poem scored for soprano and string sextet which was intended as a companion piece for Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. In his middle period, Zemlinsky’s exploration of a shadowy and erotic symbolism akin to Jugendstil finds potent expression in the marvellous Maeterlinck Songs. Finally the Symphonische Gesänge represent the composer coming to terms with Twenties modernism, albeit in a highly individual manner.

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The connecting thread between all these works remains Zemlinsky’s refined sense of orchestral colour – a quality that is very effectively projected in these performances. Yet despite some fine solo singing, I find James Conlon’s approach too reticent in places. Certain passages in the Maeterlinck songs cry out for more emotional involvement, while the faster songs in the Symphonische Gesänge fail to effect the same degree of menace and energy as in Riccardo Chailly’s Decca recording. Erik Levi