Friday, December 24, 2010

Zemlinsky, an overlooked Austrian

The Austrian composer Alexander (von) Zemlinsky (1871-1942) has long been just a footnote in history, more known for his personal relationship to other composers than for his music: he courted Alma Schindler, the later wife of Mahler, and Schoenberg was his brother in law. In the past two decades, his sumptuous mildly dissonant music, with its rich orchestral palette, has finally gained interest and dozens of CD's with his compositions have been released. Most of his work can be classified as post-romantic, although later works show neo-classical tendencies. Surprisingly, he never experimented with the 12-tone technique invented by his brother in law. I have selected a CD with his (in my opinion) best composition, the 1904 extended symphonic fantasy Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid), coupled with the 1934 Sinfonietta, a stunning piece that recalls Stravinsky and Hindemith. The performances by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd leave nothing to be desired. A composer that should be represented in any serious classical music collection - and this is a CD suitable for that purpose.