Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) [47:36]
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. Helsinki Music Centre, September 2014
ONDINE ODE1237-5 SACD [69:25]
Zemlinsky commenced work on Die Seejungfrau (“The Mermaid”) in 1892. It was originally envisaged as a single-movement symphonic, and very programmatic, work, based, as it was, on the Hans Christian Andersen story. As work on the piece progressed, it became more of large-scale “Fantasy for Orchestra”, as it was billed at its first performance; more of a general mood-picture inspired by the story and less a programmatical re-telling of this in music. This SACD recording by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor John Storgårds brings out most beautifully the lush, rich, luxuriant harmonies of the work, as if both conductor and orchestra are revelling in the sumptuous opulence of the orchestration. Recorded at the Helsinki Music Centre, the sound has a warmth that suits the work extremely well, resulting in a splendidly lavish and generous performance, in which the conductor neither rushes, nor falls into the trap of indulging too much and consequently dragging. This particular recording also has the great benefit of including a four-minute slow and atmospheric passage entitled “In the realm of the Mer-Witch”, suppressed by the composer and so not heard elsewhere.
Die Seejungfrau is twinned on the disc with the Sinfonietta, composed in 1934 after Zemlinksy’s relocation to Vienna (after fleeing Nazi Germany). The Sinfonietta is presented here in a version for chamber orchestra, the arrangement made by Roland Freistizer in 2013, of which this is the world premiere recording. It is a good arrangement but I do always in such circumstances miss the richness of the original version. It is a far leaner work than the plush and exuberant Die Seejungfrau, with a terser sound-world – economical, more angular and harsher in tone, yet there is still a yearning quality and a beauty of sound that links it to his earlier works. The performance here can yet again be highly recommended – full of humour, passion and radiance in the appropriate places. This rendition can therefore be fully recommended, as, most certainly, can the gorgeous, luscious performance of Die Seejungfrau.