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Zemlinsky & Berg

Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony Op. 18
Berg: Lyric Suite - three movements for string orchestra (1928)

Roman Trekel (baritone) & Twyla Robinson (soprano)
Houston Symphony/Hans Graf

Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony inspired Alban Berg, who quoted its third movement in his own Lyric Suite, three movements of which Berg himself arranged for string orchestra, to great effect.

Berg dedicated his masterpiece to Zemlinsky but carried a secret programme, his passionate but doomed love for Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, neither of them deciding to leave their spouses.

The Lyric Symphony, with alternating movements for male and female soloists, is inescapably linked to Mahler's Song of the Earth.

For purchasers in the shops, this is a curious case. Naxos' version carries significant disadvantages. The notes crammed into two stapled pages are in miniscule print, which some of us cannot read without a magnifying glass (Zemlinsky afficionados tend to be of the older generation!) and include a page listing all the orchestral players; nice for them and commendable. There is also a good set of photos, and an appropriate cover image to remind us that Zemlinsky's text is from Tagore poems, written in English so I understand.

But there are no words of the songs to read; "for copyright reasons", says Naxos. That is hard to understand as they are freely available, most easily for Musical Pointers' readers on Emily Ezust's indispensable website. There you can find Tagore in English (but not his Bengali translation) together with the German sung words in what appears to be an anonymous/unidentified version...

Sorting these out has been rewarding, and taking the songs one by one whilst listening on the computer (my iMac has remarkably good sound quality) has probably maintained attention, and appreciation of the excellent performance, far better than listening to it continuously (as it is performed) whilst trying to follow the Floros/Scarrow synopsis provided.

Obviously it is a bargain, and artistically a good one. But I am not alone in deploring the lack of proper texts, in this case beautiful and moving poems. If this is important to you, you may prefer to splash out on the Chandos version, with full texts in German plus parallel French in the lefthand column and English the righthand (q.v. Rob Barnett's comparative review).

Otherwise follow my example of the first poem as illustrated below:

Peter Grahame Woolf