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Hyperion Records

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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: 45 minutes 39 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 B flat major
1897 sometimes referred to as Symphony No 2

Adagio  [9'07]
Moderato  [10'45]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Having completed his ‘first’ Symphony, Zemlinsky did indeed continue to ‘compose in as Brahmsian a manner as possible’, writing a Symphony in B flat major in 1897, the year that Brahms died. But while its finale clearly pays homage to Brahms by invoking the passacaglia from his Fourth Symphony, the work as a whole, written in Payerbach an der Rax, betrays a much wider sphere of influence. The first movement’s nods to Dvorák keep Zemlinsky within the Brahmsian fold, yet the call of Siegfried and the Mastersingers from the Hofoper across the Ringstrasse is equally unmistakable. Following a mellifluous introduction, these parties duke it out within the confident opening Allegro.

The scherzo is a chattering and occasionally brusque dance, with a more civilized alter ego. That Ländlerisch trio shows muted kinship with Mahler, whose First Symphony had already been heard in Budapest, Hamburg, Weimar and Berlin by the time that Zemlinsky was at work on his second contribution to the genre. The dreamy slow movement, showing a particularly expressive use of brass, soothes the tensions of the scherzo, instead calling on the music of the first movement. Previously headstrong heroism is now cast in nobler terms, before strings and curling flutes throw a melancholy light over the material.

The finale appears doubly energetic in the slow movement’s wake, striding ahead with a series of twenty-six variations. Unlike the seamless close to Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, however, there is something rather breathless about this episodic finale. Nonetheless, Zemlinsky shows great imagination, both in terms of developing the material and in his diverse use of the orchestra. And, as in his D minor Symphony, he concludes in an audacious manner, combining the principal theme from the first and third movements with the finale’s dynamic ostinato.

The B flat major Symphony won the prestigious Beethoven Prize (financed by Brahms and sponsored by the Tonkünstlerverein), but it is a work firmly rooted in the nineteenth century. Certainly things were about to change, as Zemlinsky commented in 1922: ‘Then came a reaction, of course. With the struggle to find oneself, there was also an emphatic repudiation of Brahms. And there were periods when the reverence and admiration for Brahms metamorphosed into the very opposite.’

from notes by Gavin Plumley © 2014

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