James Conlon

Zemlinsky: Vocal and Orchestral Works

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Containing the better part of American conductor James Conlon's recordings of the music of Alexander Zemlinsky, this three-disc set makes the strongest case possible for a re-appraisal of the Viennese fin de siècle composer. Recorded for EMI with the excellent Gürzenich-Orchester Köln between 1995 and 2001, Conlon's performances demonstrate an absolute belief in Zemlinsky -- a belief that was not widely shared during the composer's lifetime, nor in the twenty first century. Mahler was no fan of Zemlinsky's music, and having the cantankerous atonalist Arnold Schoenberg as an advocate and son-in-law did Zemlinsky no favors. Zemlinsky received but a small boost from the revival of interest in Mahler and all things fin de siècle in the 1960s. However, as the music here shows, Zemlinsky, while certainly no Mahler, was also no Schoenberg. From the delightful confection of the Suite from Cymbelline through the charming fairytale Die Seejungfrau and the passionate love story of the Lyrische Symphonie, this is full-blooded late Romantic music full of big tunes and rich orchestrations. In the early Brahmsian cantata Frühlingsbegräbnis of 1896 and the late expressionist Prelude to the opera Der König Kandaules of 1935 Zemlinsky shows himself to be in tune with his times. But the composer's characteristically lush but pungent harmonies and soaring melodies give Zemlinsky's music a highly distinctive tone. Conlon is joined by Finnish lyric soprano Soile Isokoski and Danish baritone Bo Skovhus in the Lyrische Symphonie, and by American soprano Deborah Voigt in Ein Tanzpoem, and in both cases the singers are manifestly up for the material. Superbly recorded in full, round digital sound by EMI, this three-disc set is highly recommended to anyone who knows the music of Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Schreker, and Pfitzner, and is looking for more.

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