Zemlinsky Lyric Symphony/Berg Lyric Suite
A first-class bargain, let down only by inadequate notes, the fact that the words of the vocal pieces are not provided and a slightly but not disagreeably lean orchestral sound. Gielen has the reputation of a specialist in contemporary music, of ‘advanced’ contemporary music in particular, and that might imply that he will take a coolish view of Zemlinsky. In fact he responds with a beautiful sense of long, lyrical line, and although his orchestra lacks the last degree of sumptuousness, his accuracy and clarity of detail reveal more of the subtle beauties of the score than some more opulent readings, as well as bolder vehemence. His control of tempo and his readiness to slow the music to breathless stillness are both admirable.
These virtues would count for a lot less if the soloists were merely competent. Both are more than that. Orsanic is clean and accurate; although she does not hover as ecstatically as she might in the fourth song, she responds to the solo string writing at its opening with an imaginative fining-down of tone. Even so, she sounds rather more at home in the Berg Altenberg Lieder, where she reacts intelligently to the texts and opens out to lyrical vehemence at the end of the cycle. Johnson is still better, a fine lyric baritone with dignity, clear diction and admirable phrasing. The pieces from the Lyric Suite are exceptionally well done, richness of texture combining with excellent precision of attack, fine solo playing and warm expressiveness.
“A first-class bargain”, I said at the outset, but that doesn’t mean “useful for the hard-up collector who can’t afford a more luscious account”. Gielen’s reading of the Zemlinsky will not disappoint any admirer of the work, regardless of their bank balance.'