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Alexander von Zemlinsky: Die Seejungfrau
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc Albrecht (conductor)
Live recording: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (November 10-12, 2018) – 47’30
Pentatone PTC 5186 740 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English and German

One of Alexander Zemlinsky’s most luscious scores, this rendition of Die Seejungfrau incorporates Antony Beaumont’s 2013 edition, whereby roughly five minutes of music are added back into the second movement. Prior to its Viennese premiere on January 25, 1906 the 70 measure compartment, “With the Sea Witch”, was removed due to its tumultuous and almost riotous behavior. Zemlinsky himself deemed it a “disruptive” and obstreperous barricade to an, otherwise, near perfect harmonic score. Did Zemlinsky purloin and bury this “cacophonic clause” due to its mere reflection on his own personal life? While Alma Schindler and Gustav Mahler come to mind, that debacle more strongly points to an indirect survey of his 1923 opera, Der Zwerg.

Marc Albrecht chooses the Beaumont route which comes with a more theatric draw, the merwitch insertion largely feisty and abrasive. Likewise, this Pentatone release comes on the heels of Cornelius Meister’s earlier cpo live recording that opted out of the original version.

Andersen’s The Little Mermaid isn’t a “walk down a primrose path”, rather, it has small minefields of Faustian conversations which should, most certainly, garner higher agitation on the music side. Like sandpaper grinding against the notes, M. Beaumont’s additive has just that...now Die Seejungfrau rolls around in more daring controversy.

Superficially, Die Seejungfrau wades about with spouts of caliginous impressionism and sprinkles of Korngold cinematic qualities while the dramaturgic concepts are intricately laced together, as if by magic…Zemlinsky was brilliant on that front. Marc Albrecht’s invigorating performance is studded by nuanced tempos, though the overall pacing is assertive. One exception is the first moment’s opening bars which are treated with a measured crawl. While the conductor is very clear about what notes to be “pushed” to forte, horns, at times, overconsume.

The enchantment in this symphonic poem is iridescent. The second movement has Wagnerian rings (0’16), yet Straussian shock (8’15 in the third movement) acts as a preamble to the mermaid's impending doom. Inside the “Sehr gedehnt, mit schmerzvollern Ausdruck”, M. Albrecht uses a sharp and long cutoff (10’27) for seven seconds, but the return of the music, in the form “of the immortal soul”, initiates as if the recording had been “spliced”. Nonetheless, the pregnant pause has a very profound purpose as the music draws to a close in an abbreviated “Liebestod” aura.

Marc Albrecht and the NPO give a very thoughtful and highly spirited performance of Die Seejungfrau. Highly persuasive and endearing for anyone with a passion for Alexander von Zemlinsky.

Christie Grimstad




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