SZYMANOWSKI Violin Concerto No 1 ZEMLINSKY Lyric Symphony
This is a very attractive pairing of two early 20th-century works distinguished by the opulence of their orchestral textures. Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, completed in 1916 but not premiered until 1922, has been successfully recorded by many violinists, including Danczowska, Zehetmair, Zimmermann and Little. Even with this competition, however, Elina Vähälä’s version stands out for its quality. Her performance has an expressive intensity that contrasts with both the quicksilver delicacy of Zehetmair’s approach and the warmth and fantasy of Little’s performance. This isn’t to suggest Vähälä’s interpretation lacks litheness or spontaneity, for these qualities are present too, alongside an impressive technical command and a sense of rapture at key moments. The contribution of the Polish orchestra under Alexander Liebreich is as refined and impassioned as any rival.
Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony, completed in 1923 and based on poems by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, reflects the influence of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde but is otherwise significantly different in style. As with the Szymanowski concerto, there are a number of excellent recordings already available, notably those by Chailly and Eschenbach. This new performance can be considered at least their equal. Although the singers are forwardly balanced, the recording is of surpassing transparency and richness, allowing Zemlinsky’s iridescent score to be heard to ravishing effect, and Liebreich conveys the music’s mingled ardour, otherworldliness and heartbreak with tremendous conviction. Michael Nagy doesn’t offer the honeyed warmth of Matthias Goerne for Eschenbach in the four baritone songs, but contributes a performance of great sensitivity and has the vocal heft to deal with the part’s more challenging moments. Johanna Winkel’s account of the three soprano songs is both ravishing and deeply musical, illuminating the text even more persuasively than Christine Schäfer does on the Capriccio recording. Despite a booklet note extending to 60 pages, no text or translations are included, which is regrettable (although the omission can be remedied with a quick online search.) That aside, this is a very recommendable offering.