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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Profile of a girl (preparatory work for a decorative stain, 1897) by Koloman Moser (1868-1918)
Track(s) taken from CDA67985
Recording details: February 2013
BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon & Dave Rowell
Release date: February 2014
Total duration: 32 minutes 29 seconds

'Considering that Alexander von Zemlinsky was in his twenties when he composed his two early symphonies, both works demonstrate an uncommon level of maturity … Everywhere one senses a voice leaping to establish its own identity.

Unlike James Conlon on a rival coupling of the same two works with the Cologne Giirzenich Orchestra (EMI—nla), Martyn Brabbins plays the B flat Symphony’s long first-movement exposition repeat, which brings its total timing to an imposing 16'26" (against 12'11" on Conlon’s recording) … Zemlinsky’s scoring is both rich and detailed, and when he draws his forces together for the biggest climaxes one senses that he knows exactly w'hat he is doing. Those readers wedded to the great Austro-German Romantics are likely to find this coupling irresistible' (Gramophone) » More

'Martyn Brabbins has a strong empathy for Zemlinsky’s musical language, demonstrating a masterly control of pacing in each movement … the present release can be confidently recommended for the refined and subtle playing of the BBC NOW and a recording that achieves an ideal balance between textural clarity and Romantic warmth' (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'You may know about the life of Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942): born full of promise in old Vienna, dying disappointed and neglected in émigré New York, brother-in-law of Schoenberg, lover of Alma Schindler who ditched him for Mahler. But there are increasing attempts to address this imbalance, with some of Zemlinsky's prominent, later works—the 'Lyric' Symphony and the tone poem The Mermaid—now programmed regularly. These two early symphonies, played with the right degree of late-Romantic lushness and fluency by the BBC NOW under Martyn Brabbins, place him firmly in that fascinating stylistic crevice between Brahms and Mahler. Whether you see him as a footnote to the 19th century or a prelude to the 20th, the music has a variety and melodic warmth which is well worth exploring' (The Observer)

'Those wanting the two symphonies will find the present release, with lustrous sound courtesy of Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall and decent booklet notes by Gavin Plumley, admirably fills a gap in their collection' (International Record Review) » More

'The long shadow of Brahms fell over the many rising composers in Vienna at the end of the 19th century, and his special influence on Alexander Zemlinsky is clear in the younger musician’s two completed symphonies, here played with Brahmsian breadth and sway by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Martyn Brabbins … the symphonies in D minor and B flat major are colourful pieces in the rich turn-of-the-century mosaic of Austrian art' (The Independent on Sunday) » More

'Both works are played for all they are worth … worth investigating for offbeat glimpses into Viennese composition in transition' (The Sunday Times)

'The Symphony in B flat is impressive … the descending horn call at the start is such a simple yet memorable idea—nostalgic, bucolic, bidding farewell to a musical culture and tradition already on the wane. The ensuing Allegro has infectious swagger, the Scherzando has Mahlerian bounce and the Adagio is marvellous … Hyperion's sound is glowing—one of the richest recordings they've issued. Martyn Brabbins's BBC Welsh players raise the roof in the noisier climaxes, and the notes are excellent. Lovely sleeve art too' (

Symphony in D minor
1892/3; first performed on 10 February 1893 conducted by Johann Nepomuk Fuchs; sometimes referred to as Symphony No 1

Moderato  [7'22]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Zemlinsky had begun work on a Symphony in E minor in 1891. Like many Viennese composers before and after him, writing a new symphony proved a daunting task and he soon abandoned the plans. Yet he returned to the breach in 1892 with a Symphony in D minor, working throughout the first half of the year. Zemlinsky conducted the first movement at an end-of-term concert in the Musikverein. Brahms, the sovereign guard of the Viennese symphonic tradition, was in the audience (as he often was at Conservatory events). It was an auspicious occasion and marked the peak of Zemlinsky’s obsession with the great master; he later commented, in 1922: ‘My works fell even more than before under the influence of Brahms. I remember how even among my colleagues it was considered particularly praiseworthy to compose in as “Brahmsian” a manner as possible. We were soon notorious in Vienna as the dangerous “Brahmins”.’ Zemlinsky continued work on his Symphony later that year and it was premiered in its entirety on 10 February 1893, conducted by his encouraging teacher Johann Nepomuk Fuchs (Robert Fuchs’s brother). George Enescu was among the violinists in the orchestra.

The opening movement is a bold sonata form construction, shunning any claims of academicism with its gripping dramatic intent. The noble first subject is followed by a flowing second subject, both packed with developmental potential. Keen to show his investigative credentials, though, Zemlinsky immediately starts examining constituent motifs, a process which potentially robs the development proper of its purpose. This was partly reflective of Robert Fuchs’s idea of motivic economy, which Zemlinsky explores in a particularly expressive manner, looking forward to Schoenberg’s idea of ‘developing variation’. Yet the middle section of the movement is no wallflower, featuring violent shifts between major and minor, eventually heralding the thunderous recapitulation and a long exhausted coda.

The ensuing scherzo in F major, starting with the rising fourth that began the entire Symphony, flaunts syncopation in a manner not dissimilar to Brahms’s Bohemian friend Dvorák, while the trio, in D flat major, is the work of a thoroughbred ‘Brahmin’. The slow movement tries to preserve the unruffled air of a Bruckner Adagio, though it is haunted by the impulsive mood of the first movement. Something of that disquiet remains in the initial stretches of the finale, but rather than resolving the tensions, Zemlinsky shrugs them off, ending with a bold if not entirely fully earned coda.

from notes by Gavin Plumley © 2014

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