James Judd

Zemlinsky: The Mermaid

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When this disc was released in 2009, the music of Alexander Zemlinsky was no longer the recorded rarity it had once been. After more than 20 years of what could be called the "Zemlinsky revival," there were recordings available of most of the fin-de-siècle Austrian composer's major works, and this disc adds further performances of two of his most popular works to the catalog: Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) from 1903 and the Sinfonietta from 1934. Performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Judd, both works receive well-played and thoughtful accounts here. In their performances, Die Seejungfrau's soaring themes have plenty of late Romantic muscle, and its sensual harmonies have plenty of heart. The Sinfonietta's more angular themes, leaner harmonies, and sharper colors work together to form a winning combination of expressivity and objectivity. If these were the only recordings of the works one were to hear, the listener might be satisfied that Zemlinsky's music had been well-served. On the other hand, the recordings of these works by Riccardo Chailly and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, or James Conlon and the Gürzenich-Orchestra Kölner Philharmoniker, reveal that the New Zealand players are not entirely familiar with Zemlinsky's opulent style and that James Judd isn't entirely successful in conveying a sense of the composer's distinctive personality. Naxos' digital sound is cool and clear, if a tad distant.

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