Zemlinsky Psalms 13, 23 & 83

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Zemlinsky Psalms 13, 23 & 83

  • Psalm LXXX
  • Psalm XXIII
  • Psalm XIII
  • (3) Ballettstücke

These performances of Zemlinsky’s three Psalms are better sung than Conlon’s and the recording, though slightly grey and congested, is better balanced. Rickenbacher also plays them in what is dramatically and musically, if not numerically, the ‘right’ order (83, 23, 13). In Psalm 83, apart from one brief passage for solo soprano, Rickenbacher allots the solo lines to a semi-chorus (Conlon uses four soloists); I have no idea whether the score allows this, but it sounds effective. But so does Conlon’s option, and his couplings are both far more generous and, in the case of the charming cantata Fruhlingsbegrabnis, more interesting. The three brief Ballettstucke, drawn from Zemlinsky’s early ballet The Triumph of Time, are really his light music: pretty tunes, agreeably scored, but all three pieces soon settle into that sort of one-two rhythm that Bernard Shaw characterized as ‘up the middle and down again’. The Psalms are the major music here, impressive as an eloquent trilogy, still more so as semi-autobiographical documents. To make a difficult choice still harder, though, Koch Schwann provides no texts (and no: your Prayer Book or Bible will not be much help since Zemlinsky omitted several verses of Psalm 83). Now that I have heard Fruhlingsbegrabnis I would not want to be without it, though every time I hear Conlon’s choir I wish I was listening to Rickenbacher’s.'

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