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Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony; Berg: Lyric Suite Pieces / Trekel, Robinson, Graf, Houston Symphony

Release Date: 05/26/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572048   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alexander von ZemlinskyAlban Berg
Performer:  Roman TrekelTwyla Robinson
Conductor:  Hans Graf
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ZEMLINSKY Lyric Symphony. 1 BERG 3 Pieces from the Lyric Suite Hans Graf, cond; Twyla Robinson (sop); 1 Roman Trekel (bar); 1 Houston S NAXOS 8.572048 (63:53)

The Lyric Symphony may be Zemlinsky’s most widely known work, but it is also his most Read more misunderstood. Its scoring is dense but delicate, and almost every recorded performance overplays it, trying to get as much power and sound from the score as possible. Even Chailly, a conductor with a fine feeling for Zemlinsky, and the Concertgebouw, a normally luminous orchestra, came out sounding bloated and bombastic in their Decca/London recording. Zemlinsky scholar, performer, and biographer Antony Beaumont published a new edition of the score in 2003: “Innumerable engravers’ and copyists’ errors, omissions and slips of the pen have been amended or rectified . . . the score has . . . lost a few cymbal crashes . . . but gained substantially in clarity.” (From Beaumont’s notes to his Chandos recording with the Czech Philharmonic.) That performance is not only lighter in texture but also much brisker than Chailly’s, shorter by almost 10 percent; yet it doesn’t quite work: orchestra, singers, and recorded sound just miss the mark.

The other problem with the Lyric Symphony is a soprano line as taxing as that in Beethoven’s Ninth. Chailly’s Alessandra Marc pours out huge tone but has an annoying mannerism of sliding into notes. The finest recording is a Capriccio SACD, with Christoph Eschenbach and L’Orchestre de Paris ( Fanfare 30:1). The orchestra is delicate and refined, the singers (Christine Schaefer and Mathias Goerne) excellent, and the sound glorious, as fine on CD as on SACD. Surprisingly, some very slow tempos do not hurt at all.

This Naxos disc stands up quite well against those recordings. The Houston Symphony plays well but is less transparent than the Paris ensemble, at least as heard on these recordings—the Capriccio has an extra sheen that suits this music. Eschenbach’s soloists also have a slight advantage. Goerne is solid over the part’s wide range (bass to tenor), whereas Trekel dries at the top; Robinson sings cleanly but has to struggle with the highest notes, which Schäfer manages beautifully. However, the Capriccio has no filler and costs about twice as much as this Naxos disc. Arkivmusic.com lists only a CD version of the Capriccio, but I have the SACD here in hand.

Berg’s Lyric Suite is closely related to the Lyric Symphony . Both are tales of love and passion, and Berg quotes several of Zemlinsky’s themes. In its original form, the Lyric Suite was a six-movement string quartet with a soprano solo in the finale. He suppressed the vocal part in the published score; when he expanded the scoring for string orchestra, he used only the second, third, and fourth movements. The Houston Symphony plays accurately and carefully, but does not penetrate to the essence of this music. A superbly played and recorded SACD, MDG 901 1425 ( Fanfare 30:5 and Steven E. Ritter’s Want List 2007 in 31:2) has Jac van Steen conducting the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur in the Lyric Suite plus other works of Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern. Ritter and I agree that the MDG is the most beautiful disc of the Second Vienna School.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Lyric Symphony, Op. 18 by Alexander von Zemlinsky
Performer:  Roman Trekel (Baritone), Twyla Robinson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Hans Graf
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; Austria 
Lyric Suite Pieces (3) for String Orchestra by Alban Berg
Conductor:  Hans Graf
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Austria 

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