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Zemlinsky: Die Seejungfrau, Psalm 13 / Chailly, RSO Berlin

Release Date: 10/08/2008 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 417450   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alexander von Zemlinsky
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony OrchestraErnst Senff Chamber Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Zemlinsky's Die Seejungfrau ("The mermaid") is a three-movement symphonic fantasy based on the Hans Andersen story. It was first performed (under the composer's direction) in 1905, and is thus a good deal earlier than the works that have recently excited renewed interest in him—the oneact operas Eine florentinische TragOdie (1916) and Der Zwerg (1921), and the exquisite Lyric Symphony of 1922. In its masterly handling of a large orchestra, however, and of an episodic but firm structure, it is a far from immature piece. Zemlinsky was 34 when he wrote it, after all. If his list of works were not in such a terrible mess—many are unpublished; several, including the present work, were until recently thought to be lost—Die Seejungfrau Read more would count as his Op. 30 or thereabouts.

I have not seen the sleeve-note or a score of the work, and cannot say how detailed a programme the piece has, but it works perfectly well as a sumptuous and imaginative sea-symphony. There are dark, slow pulsings at the outset (rather like Rachmaninov's The isle of the dead), presumably to evoke the depths that are the mermaid's home, but then an ascent towards the sun is suggested as woodwind and strings lighten the texture. The languorous solo violin passage that follows depicts the mermaid herself, I take it, and the ensuing glittering opulence her gambolling in the sunlit waters. There is a passionately ardent theme that rises to an almost Mahlerian eloquence, and there is dramatic strife later in the movement, but the long concluding section is all rapt serenity. The central movement is a fantastic scherzo of great virtuosity, alternating bright chamber-music textures, warm lyricism and headlong exuberance. I cannot imagine what it all represents (apart from Zemlinsky exulting in the riches of the orchestra and in his own prowess at juggling with them) but it is rich, luscious stuff and most enjoyable. Presumably Andersen's drama resumes after this jeu de vagues; at all events the finale is much darker, gravely sad at the outset, tenderly pathetic later after the waves close over the Seejungfrau once more, with moments of fraught conflict between, and a noble sea-theme as epilogue. Mature, yes, in its assurance and its ability to absorb influences without merely reflecting them: there is a good deal of Richard Strauss in the last movement, for example (and Brahms is occasionally visible in the depths, though Zemlinsky has of his bones coral made) but a young man's music, too: enthusiastic, prodigal of ideas, and with just an agreeable touch of the show-off to its display of skill.

The setting of Psalm 13 (How long, 0 Lord, wilt Thou forget me?) dates from 30 years later, Zemlinsky's last work with orchestra save for the unfinished opera King Candaules. It is powerfully urgent and dramatic music, expressed in sinewy lines and earnest counterpoint, predominantly dark in colour and striving in manner but rising to a sonorously affirmative conclusion. The choir here is not of the first class and the recording (which has a big orchestra and organ to cope with as well) is not very kind to them, but the orchestral sound, in Die Seejungfrau especially, is splendid. The orchestra themselves are clearly having the time of their lives in Zemlinsky's polychromatic sea-music and Chailly, while retaining discreet control, gives them their heads most satisfyingly.

-- Gramophone [6/1987]
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Works on This Recording

Die Seejungfrau by Alexander von Zemlinsky
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1903; Austria 
Date of Recording: 03/1986 
Venue:  Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin 
Length: 40 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Psalm 13, Op. 24 by Alexander von Zemlinsky
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Ernst Senff Chamber Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 03/1986 
Venue:  Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin 
Length: 13 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Language: German 

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