There is no shortage of excellent studio recordings of Alexander Zemlinsky’s Lyrische Symphonie made over the past three decades. Chailly, Maazel, Eschenbach and a host of other conductors have taken on this work that some have dismissed as a poor man’s Das Lied von der Erde, but now comes a live performance from the 1980s that demands to be heard.

Zemlinsky

The late German conductor Michael Gielen led the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in a beautifully controlled and produced concert in Vienna’s Musikverein in 1989 with two fine soloists in US soprano Karan Armstrong and German baritone Roland Hermann. Four years later, down the road at Konzerthaus, he recorded an equally lucid performance of Franz Schreker’s delightful Vorspiel zu einem Drama and the two have been paired for this new release on the orchestra’s Orfeo label.

Written in 1911 when Zemlinsky left Vienna for a busy conducting post in Prague, the Lyric Symphony has received a mixed press but it is far more than a self-confessed tribute to Mahler’s masterpiece, sharing with it a late Romantic European imagining of Asian culture and philosophy. Zemlinsky sets seven of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore’s collection The Gardener, which tracks the trajectory of a doomed love affair, and provides more narrative cohesion and symphonic sweep than Das Lied.

Armstrong, who died in September at 81, is marvellous and fully in her prime. She was impeccably qualified having been trained by Lotte Lehmann and appeared alongside the likes of Christa Ludwig and Cornell MacNeil. Hermann, who died in 2020, is the perfect counterpart. 

Available on Apple Music

Composers: Zemlinsky, Schreker
Works: Lyrische Symphonie, Prelude to a Drama
Performers: Karan Armstrong, Roland Hermann, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gielen
Label: Orfeo C210241