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Zemlinsky: Lyrische Symphonie (after Tagore), Op. 18
Alexander Zemlinsky, Lorin Maazel, Berlin Philharmonic
Zemlinsky: Lyrische Symphonie (after Tagore), Op. 18
Genre: Classical


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CD Reviews

The great thing here is the playing of the Berlin Philharmon
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 05/22/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

"When this recording appeared in 1982, Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony was a real rarity. Even today, when it is acknowledged as his orchestral masterpiece and with half a dozen good versions on disc, it's rare to hear the work in concert. The composer asks for a huge post-Romatnic orchestra, and ideally the two vocal soloists would have voices of Wagnerian power. I suppose the Lyric Sym. will always run second to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, written fifteen years earlier and the obvious model for tis work -- both are vocal symphonies based on Oriental poetry. In its own right, however, the Zemlinsky is quite powerful emotionally (after years of knowing the work only through recordings, I finally heard it live, with Thomas Hampson and the NY Phil. under Neeme Jarvi -- a magnificent experience loudly cheered by the audience).

Through some kind of alchemy Mahler's Das Lied preserves the Chinese feeling of the texts by Li-Po, but Zemlinsky, using fervent love poetry by the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913), doesn't aim to evoke the musical language of India. the texts could be by anyone, in fact, the real point being Zemlinsky's creation of a relentlessly passionate atmosphere, the kind that appears in Korngold's equally lush opera, die tote Stadt. In both works,the ever-shifting chromaticism underlies the restlessness and pain of love. Melodically, the Lyric Xym. is strongest in the first two movements; thee is a three-note motif that brings the seventh movement back around to the first. Otherwise, this work could as easily be a suite of songs as a symphony.

The Maazel recording broke ground by executing Zemlinsky's luscious tapestry of orchestral sounds so clearly and beautifully. There are many moments when you marvel at the Berlin Phil. -- later recordings rarely equal and never surpass what is heard here. Maazel is in full command, and his urgent, skilled leadership skirts the eccentricity that is so prevalent in his work. The early digital recording still betrays a bit of glare, but that is not a serious defect. the deciding factor will be the singers. Fischer-Dieskau was in good voice here, in his mid-fifties, and the heavy demands of the part don't cause his tone to wobble r lose focus. But the engineers are forced to mike him too close; I doubt in the concert hall that his fairly light baritone could really cut through the massive orchestra. This closeness brings out the singer's lack of lyrical richness. He doesn't bark, which is good, but there's too much effort and too little vocal plush.

Julia Varady was a notable Straussian, and her part isn't as demanding or heavily orchestrated as the dominant baritone part. But expressive as she is, she too is overparted. You need an Isolde for the heaviest moments and a Marschallin for the poignant ones. Varady takes us only halfway when we can get farther with Devorah Voigt, on the superb Sinopoli recording with Terfel (DG) of Alessandra Marc on the Chailly recording on Decca. Either one is better overall than this version, but for all that, the Berliners' brilliant playing is hard to get out of our head."