Zemlinsky: Psalms 13, 23 & 83; Minnelied; Frühlingsbegräbnis

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COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Psalms 13, 23 & 83; Minnelied; Frühlingsbegräbnis
PERFORMER: Deborah Voigt (soprano), Donnie Ray Albert (baritone); Düsseldorf Musikverein Choir, Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra/James Conlon
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56783 2
Zemlinsky’s three psalm settings inhabit a fascinating halfway house between the purely sacred manner of Bruckner and the individualist approach as epitomised by Brahms. In the early Psalm 83, this tension is manifested in the striking contrast between the strictly polyphonic choral writing of the opening and the more anguished chromaticism of the ensuing solo soprano. Chromaticism, however, gains the upper hand in the two later works, in particular the monumental Psalm 13 of 1935. Here one cannot help but interpret Zemlinsky’s choice of text in autobiographical terms, since the psalm’s message of ‘despair and hope at a time of great need’ seems to parallel the composer’s own plight in relation to the inexorable rise of Fascism in Central Europe.

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The rest of this absorbing disc is taken up mainly with secular choral works from the 1890s. Although Brahms’s influence pervades many of the pieces, Zemlinsky achieves a distinctive charm in the short setting of Uhland’s poem ‘Frühlingsglaube’, and in the more ambitious Frühlingsbegräbnis cantata comes close to the visionary world of Mahler’s Das klagende Lied.

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While Riccardo Chailly has already championed the Psalms most effectively for Decca, James Conlon proves equally compelling in this repertoire and with the support of some outstanding singing and playing, makes a powerful case for the reappraisal of Zemlinsky’s entire choral output. Erik Levi