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Zemlinsky: Symphonies 1 & 2 / Brabbins, BBC Wales

Release Date: 02/11/2014 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67985   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alexander von Zemlinsky
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

These finely crafted symphonies date from the 1890s, a period when Zemlinsky was musically in awe of Brahms. Although offering precious little hint at the change of style the composer would undergo at the turn of the century, they are nonetheless attractive works with some boldly structured movements. The D minor Symphony, whose first movement was performed at a concert attended by Brahms at the Vienna Conservatory in 1891, may be the less distinctive in terms of its thematic material. But there are certainly some impressive moments, particularly in the dramatic major/minor conflict of the opening movement, while the lyrical impulse of the Adagio is most affecting. Nevertheless, the B flat major Symphony, composed in 1897, the year when Read more Brahms died, is altogether more compelling. Here Zemlinsky absorbs a wider range of musical influences, in particular Dvo?ák and Wagner in the first movement, and there are charming allusions to Mahler in the middle section of the Scherzo. The imaginative passacaglia Finale pays obvious homage to Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and builds up quite a head of steam in its thrilling coda.

Martyn Brabbins has a strong empathy for Zemlinsky’s musical language, demonstrating a masterly control of pacing in each movement. Perhaps in his Decca recording of the B flat Symphony, Riccardo Chailly offers a more highly charged view of the first movement, but elsewhere there is little to choose between the two performances. In any case, the present release can be confidently recommended for the refined and subtle playing of the BBC NOW and a recording that achieves an ideal balance between textural clarity and Romantic warmth.

-- Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine [3/2014]


Two numbered symphonies by Zemlinsky to add to his more frequently recorded Sinfonietta and Lyric Symphony. Look again though. These are early works by a young composer still under the romantic thrall.

This coupling has appeared before. James Conlon, who has set down for EMI Classics more Zemlinsky than any other conductor, recorded these two symphonies. Naxos issued them together, first on Marco Polo and then on Naxos under two different conductors, Ludovit Rajter and Edgar Seipenbusch each with Slovak orchestras. I do not know the Conlon (Gürzenich Orchestra; Kölner Philharmoniker; CDC 556473 2) but I have heard the Naxos and from an interpretative stance it is by no means inferior to the Brabbins. Also out there are good recordings of the Second Symphony by Zemlinsky specialist and biographer Adrian Beaumont (Nimbus NI 5682 and Chandos CHAN10204) and by Riccardo Chailly (Decca). Beaumont also recorded the First Symphony for Chandos on CHAN10138.

It is not Brabbins’ way to rush these works. The First Symphony is an apprentice effort that speaks a language related to that of the Brahms serenades. It does so across three movements. The style is an accustomed one and the emotional range is diverting and charming rather than sharply dramatic. It’s a case of early Dvo?ák rather than late Brahms. Brabbins gives the music an affectionate run for its money. Four years later and we reach the Second Symphony. The music inhabits a world similar to that of Dvo?ák - this time the middle period symphonies: 4-6. The musical argument is broadly relaxed and generally smiling as it is with its predecessor. However in this case four years of development reaps an occasionally more dramatic turn of phrase. While this later work carries no pre-echoes at all of Zemlinsky’s expressionist convictions the world it moves through is emotionally more complex and is no stranger to tragedy. It’s pleasing and engaging rather than utterly compelling.

Brabbins and Hyperion allow us to hear Zemlinsky as the expansive romantic mid-European young man of the 1890s. The audio quality is very attractive - indeed superior - and the notes by Gavin Plumley cover all the right bases.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in D minor by Alexander von Zemlinsky
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1892; Vienna, Austria 
Symphony no 2 in B flat major by Alexander von Zemlinsky
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897; Vienna, Austria 

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