Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony; Incidental Music to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline

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COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Lyric Symphony; Incidental Music to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline
PERFORMER: Turid Karlsen (soprano), Jaroslav Brezina (tenor), Franz Grundheber (baritone); members of Bremen Shakespeare Company, Czech PO/Antony Beaumont
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10069
Alexander Zemlinsky admitted that Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde was the model for his Lyric Symphony, composed in 1921. It shares an oriental poetic basis – here verses from Rabindranath Tagore’s The Gardener – and a sequential form of songs divided between two singers. But where Mahler explores the end of life, Zemlinsky’s symphony explores the end of love, charting a romance so intoxicating that it forces its protagonists apart.

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With Chailly’s version long unavailable, the benchmark is Sinopoli’s opulently recorded DG account with Deborah Voigt and Bryn Terfel and, though it has its strengths, this new Chandos recording doesn’t quite topple either. One main point of interest is Antony Beaumont’s use of his new edition of the score, though the variants are chiefly in the minutiae. The Norwegian soprano Turid Karlsen is particularly beguiling – most definitely matching Zemlinsky’s ideal of a ‘jugendlich-dramatisch’ vocal character. German baritone Franz Grundheber is less satisfactory: although he has made many distinguished opera recordings in the past, here his voice has developed a slight wobble and, though his communication of the words is exemplary, his tone isn’t as rich as Terfel’s.

Zemlinsky’s full-on, late-Romantic sound-world comes up especially well in the Czech Philharmonic’s playing, warmly recorded in the Prague Rudolfinum. There’s no denying Beaumont’s unique authority in this music – the emotional shape from hope to love to loss is as moving as it has ever been.

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The fascinating coupling is the first recording for a set of incidental music Zemlinsky composed in 1913-15 for a typically over-the-top Shakespeare production by Max Reinhardt – though the outbreak of war and the British setting of Cymbeline meant it never saw the light of day in the theatre. A troupe of actors from Bremen sensitively intone some of the Bard’s words in German, and there’s a touching contribution from tenor Jaroslav Bšezina. Matthew Rye