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Songs by Zemlinsky
16 Nov 2012

Songs by Zemlinsky

While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.

Songs by Zemlinsky

Hermine Haselböck, soprano; Florian Henschel, piano

Bridge 9244 [CD]

$16.99  Click to buy

The present recording by Hermine Haselböck, mezzo-soprano, and Florian Henschel, piano, includes a selection of twenty-six songs, including pieces from the Nachlass, which were first published in 1995 and represent Zemlinsky’s efforts in this genre from roughly the decade between1889 and 1901. The choice of pieces is excellent both in providing a sense of Zemlinsky’s style at this point in his career, and also in giving a sense of the style Haselböck brings to this repertoire.

While the repertoire may be less familiar than some of the songs by Mahler, which Haselböck also recorded, it is musically engaging. Some of the pieces suggest affinities with composers of the previous generation, like Brahms, as found in his Heine setting Die schlanke Wasserlilie and Liebe und Frühling (text by Hoffmann von Fallerslebe). Yet other pieces are more expressionistic, as with the Sechs Gesänge nach Texten von Maurice Maeterlinck, Op. 13. The Maeterlinck settings are some of the more evocative pieces on this recording, and Haselböck’s interpretation of this set is particularly effective in bringing out the declamation of the text. Her partner in these pieces, Florian Henschel, is equally strong in his stylish performance of these pieces, which show the ways in which Zemlinsky used idiomatic piano figuration to support some of the dissonant sonorities in such songs as Die drei Schwestern and Lied der Jungfrau. The latter is haunting in its subtle presentation of poetry. Haseböck’s masterful interpretations of these pieces and the remainder on this recording show her command of Zemlinsky’s style. Standing between such contemporaries as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, Zemlinsky remains an individual voice, and in this regard deserves attention for the ways in which his works in this genre reflect the cultural forces at the turn of the last century, which are rooted in tonal structures, yet make use of modernist effects to allow dissonances that give underscore the texts. Perhaps it is the challenges in Maeterlinck’s texts which challenged the composer to create such memorable settings that bring out the fine qualities of Haselböck’s voice as accompanied by Henschel.

As modern as Zemlinsky can be, he also draws on some of conventions of the Viennese past in the Walzergesänge, op. 6. The bows to traditional dance rhythms and associated musical gestures reflect the composer’s sense of the past, while Zemlinsky’s structures bear attention for the ways in which he transcends some of predictable patterns to create original songs, not pastiches of music from the mid-nineteenth century. Klagen ist der Mond gekommen is an excellent song from this set, and gives a sense style Zemlinsky brought to this set. Likewise, Ich geh’ des Nachts seems at once rooted in Brahms’ Von ewiger Liebe, while looking toward some of the concision Berg brought to his settings of Altenberg’s texts.

Even so, Haselböck includes some of Zemlinsky’s more popular-sounding pieces in the two Brettl-Lieder, In der Sonnengassei and Herr Bombardil. These cabaret-influenced pieces reflect the period and transcend it, as some of the cliché gestures take on new meaning in the composer’s hands. Haselböck offers an effective and sensitive reading of both pieces, which round out this fine well-thought selection of Zemlinsky’s Lieder. Henschel partners well with her in giving authoritative readings of music that deserves the attention they have given it. This is a fine introduction to Zemlinsky’s songs for those unfamiliar with them, while individuals who know the repertoire should enjoy the performances on this welcome recording. The engineering of this recording supports the performances well, with good balances between the voice and piano. The keyboard is full and rich, but never covers the voice. At the same time, the recording gives a good sense of Haselböck’s mezzo-soprano voice, which is suited well to deliver these songs. It is a fine contribution to the music of the fin-de-siècle Vienna, and to the discography of Zemlinsky’s music.

James L. Zychowicz

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