First a word of warning! To those whose only experience of the music of Zemlinsky is the early post-Humperdinck Opera "Es War Einmal" then let me warn that the Lyric Symphony of 1922 is about as far removed from that idiom as Beethoven from Boulez!
This is a typical overheated, overloaded seething confection of erotic symbolism- inspired by the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore in this case- that characterised so much early 20th Century Music especially emanating from Vienna.
Musically, it stays within the bounds of tonality -just-and conjures up illusions of late Mahler and early Schoenberg of Pelleas and Verklarte Nacht laced with Scriabin and briefly straying into the atonality of Berg of the Altenburg Lieder! The scoring is for a massive orchestra paired with soprano and baritone, and the work's form is a seven song cycle with extended purely orchestral passages-if his work "A Florentine Tragedy" appeals, then this is likely to also.
It is a great, decadent late Romantic wallow that strays into Modernism briefly, and I love it!
This reissue on Brilliant Classics from an original DG Digital Recording of 1980 produced by Wolfgang Stengel is a perfect entry point to the work, and a " must have" for those who already love the work.
It was recorded, unusually for that period not in the Philharmonie but in the wonderful acoustic of the Jesus-Christus Kirche Dahlem, venue for so many great earlier BPO recordings, and the space around the orchestra and singers is magical, capturing the full lustrous glory of what was Karajan's BPO at its zenith.
Lorin Maazel was frequently criticised for his concentration on exposing detail at the expense of drive and structure-there can be no such criticism here as he thrusts the work forward from the shattering chords that provide the opening and the work's motto theme, wringing the most exquisite and sensuous tone from his players juxtaposed with overwhelming weight when the score requires. His reading is a triumph, and emphasises all the more what a Titan we have lost.
I could argue that he never conducted better than here.
The soloists are as so often husband and wife Julia Varady and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Varady has the more tender lyrical songs and acquits herself wonderfully, matched only by Deborah Voigt on sadly unavailable Sinopoli VPO recording. DF-D's performance is a little more difficult to assess-the high tessitura of some passages is difficult for him at this stage of his career, and he does resort to crooning at times. On the other hand, his lower register has added weight and richness, he sings securely-there is as yet no wobbling-and of course he emotes with great intelligence. There are no exaggerated final consonants either (the bane of my life!), and while he is not the very best in this part (that honour goes to a young Terfel for Sinopoli again), he uses his technique and experience to give a very accomplished performance.
The disc is short measure at just over 44 minutes, but the musical experience is INTENSE and overwhelming-orgasmic comes to mind as appropriate!-and the cost is now bargain price, and it is just that-a great bargain. Unreservedly recommended. Stewart Crowe.
on 4 April 2011
When this recording was made in 1981 it marked a turnaround of interest in one of the most important composers of the early twentieth century. The world's foremost classical recording company took the lead and recorded one of Zemlinsky's most important orchestral works to follow on from its recordings of the four string quartets. Ten years previously Zemlinsky and almost all of his musical output was unknown except to a very few specialists in twentieth century music. The level of neglect his work had suffered since his death a mere 29 years earlier was almost absolute. Of all the leading European composers working prior to 1933, possibly only Franz Schreker had suffered a greater level of neglect. Move forward to 2011 and the Lyric Symphony at least is no longer a rarity on concert programs. Much still needs to be done to rehabilitate Zemlinsky's operas and his chamber music but that need not concern us here.
The Lyric Symphony is an uninterrupted setting of seven poems by Tagore on the nature of love: love unrequited, love fulfilled, and the bitter-sweetness of lost love. It inhabits a world which straddles late romanticism and early modernism with the modernism being slightly more prominent than the romanticism. It is a complex work of often dense textures several of which erupt with considerable force as found in songs 1 2 and 5. There are however extended passages of great restraint and beauty as found in songs 3 4 and 6.
This performance is remarkable in one more ways than one. It has two fabulous soloists in Julia Vardy and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, both lieder specialists. It is conducted by Lorin Maazel who for once seems totally engaged by the music rather than by the size of his pay cheque. It is a puzzle why Maazel has never opted to record more Zemlinsky for this is clearly music he revels in and is by some margin one of his very finest recordings. Most remarkable of all though is the Berlin Philharmonic who play like an orchestra possessed, or rather dispossessed of their then chief conductor Karajan. The energy and vitality in their playing stands in stark contrast to some of the dour readings with the Berliners an aging Karajan was then committing to disc. This was repertoire Karajan had no interest in and given what Karajan was doing at the time we should be thankful for that. His orchestra however show they did have real sympathy with Zemlinsky's music. That is not to say the ensemble is flawless. There are a couple of passages where the first violins intonation is not quite there in some of the highest passages and the occasional tiny lapse of ensemble can be found. These are insignificant defects however in the face of what is by far the best recording available of the Lyric Symphony. The only close contender is by Berhard Klee on Schwann with Elizabeth Soderstrom, who slightly outshines Vardy, Dale Duesing and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Their performance is excellent but marred by inferior engineering which has the orchestra too distant. This CD is sadly deleted.
44 minutes is not a generous CD by any measure these days, not even at super-bargain price. But it is difficult to say just what this recording could be coupled with successfully and it's not just a question of putting other Zemlinsky works on the same disc. The main issue is the quality of the performance which is incredible. When this performance finishes you don't want to hear anything else. It resonates in the memory long after the last chord has died away. This is the modernist music that outshines so much of what came after it and its takes its place alongside Berg's Violin Concerto and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde as one of the outstanding examples of an era so much (latterly) hyped but which, as we now know, so frequently failed to deliver. Get this recording while you can. Its first incarnation on CD in 1987 lasted a couple of years. It may be out of the catalogue for another twenty years upon deletion.