INKPOT#99 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: ZEMLINSKY Lyric Symphony. Symphonic Songs. Various/Royal Concertgebouw/Chailly (Decca)
Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Decca Entartete Musik 443 569-2DH
Includes German libretto with translations in English only.
by Michael Anthonio
… Thus wrote Zemlinsky (left) to Emil Hertzka in September 1922. From the beginning it is clear that Zemlinsky wrote Lyrische Symphonie with Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in mind. The result is something so similar yet very different.
Taken from a German edition of The Gardener, a selection of loose translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Bengali lyrics, Lyrische Symphonie tells us about experiences of love. At first glance, it resembles Das Lied, especially because of the alternating male-female vocal soloists.
However, the differences between them are far greater than that. The way Zemlinsky handles the poems, the way he uses the orchestra, and the way he considers the term ‘symphony’ are very different from those of Mahler.
Cast in one-movement with three-part structure, Lyrische Symphonie is indeed Zemlinsky’s own, and for many, it represents his best work. Unlike Das Lied, the orchestral background is quite thick and complex, although it still has some chamber-feel parts. The understanding of the texts is very important therefore, since the appreciation of the whole work are depended on it. It is important too to have great soloists and conductor to make it work well.
The first two movements are about desires. The first movement, sung by the tenor, tells about a lonely man in his own world, desperately seeking for a companion. Similar to the first movement of Das Lied, it opens with the burst output of the orchestra. However, the mood of this movement is sadness and loneliness, unlike that of Das Lied. Hkan Hagegrd is quite successful here. His portrayal of the lonely man is quite convincing and heart touching. One reservation is that his voice is a bit too small for this part. There are parts where he seems to be swept away by the orchestra. Otherwise, the Royal Concertgebouw plays wonderfully, drawing well the lonely man’s world.
Opening with a quiet and cheerful tune, the second movement poetically complements the first one. It tells a story of a young woman, who is desperately trying to alert her mother to the presence of a prince passing by her house, whom she is trying hopelessly to attract. She even throws away her ruby necklace in order to do that, but only to find it crushed by the prince’s wheels. Alessandra Marc sings brilliantly in this operatic role. The irony of the story is keenly felt.
The third and the fourth movements are love songs, complementing each other. In the third one, I find Hkan Hagegrd very emotional, especially when he utters the first and third phrases “Du bist mein Eigen, mein Eigen” (“You are my own, my own”). I am sure it will work better than any boy band songs in breaking a girl’s heart. This Romantic movement is then linked with the next by a very beautiful passage on solo violin.
The fourth song, in my opinion, is really the highlight of the whole performance. Alessandra Marc sounds magical here, especially in the first and last lines “Sprich zu mir, Geliebter” (“Speak to me, my love!”). Throughout this movement the orchestra plays quietly and with atmosphere. The result makes her voice feel like it is flying in space (imagine some ethereal alien love song).
The last three movements deal with desire for freedom, separation and resignation respectively. The music becomes violent as it enters the short fifth movement. This part is about a man who tries to break free (from his marriage, maybe?). This time, I am quite satisfied with the tenor. His voice is much bigger than before, quite matches the loud and violent sounds of the orchestra.
In the subsequent movement, which talks about separation, I am sure that like myself, you will imagine it as the reaction of a girl who is dumped (by her boyfriend or husband). Here Marc sounds so different from the fourth movement. Her voice is full with sadness and angst. In the end, the main theme from the first movement emerges again in ironic state, before entering the last movement.
Then comes the most confusing (textually) of all. What’s Death supposed to do with love? (The second sentence reads “La es nicht einen Tod sein, sondern Vollendung.” (“Let it not be a death but completeness.”) However, I found this passage in A Companion to the Symphony by R. Layton which described this movement effectively:
It is also possible to interpret this differently. For me, I consider it simply as a man who tries to calm his angry partner. (Come on, I am not that old to understand the relation of love and death.) This view is especially enhanced by the opening line: “Friede, mein Herz, la die Zeit fr das Scheiden s sein.” (“Peace, my heart, let the time for parting be sweet.”) And in this description, Hkan Hagegrd succeeds tremendously.
‘Man and Woman Gazing at the Moon’ (1830/35) by Caspar David Friedrich
The filler, Symphonische Gesnge (Symphonic Songs), is based on the poetry of contemporary Black America, and full of jazz idioms. Here, Willard White gives a fine performance with his understanding of the texts.
On the whole, this disc provides very good experiences in these Post-Romantic pieces by Zemlinsky. The playing of the RCO is very supportive, and Riccardo Chailly seems to understand the complex structure of Zemlinsky’s orchestration. The soloists are very fine too. In Lyrische Symphonie, Alessandra Marc is quite perfect in her parts, especially in the contrast demand of the fourth and the sixth movements. Hkan Hagegrd sings emotionally, even if he sounds a little bit too small for the first (and the fifth) movement(s).
The recording is very clear, allowing every detail of the complex textures to be heard. This disc is a fine introduction to the wonderful world of Zemlinsky. I recommend this disc strongly, not only to Zemlinsky newbies, but also to Zemlinsky’s fans.
To conclude, I want to say that I desperately want to hear the now-deleted version of Fischer-Dieskau/Varady/BPO/Maazel on DG (419 261-2DH). I feel that DFD’s voice will suit the first and the fifth movements perfectly. Can anyone lend it to me (or even better, buy me a copy)?
As this is Michael Anthonio‘s first attempt at writing a classical music review, he greatly welcomes constructive criticism.
740: 25.6.2000 Michael Anthonio