As a young composer, Alexander Zemlinsky was supported by the ageing Brahms. He became a friend of Schoenberg and was, for a time, the composition teacher and unlikely lover of the young Alma Schindler, who then went on to marry Mahler. He's a fascinating transitional figure. Several of his works have a toehold in the repertoire, notably the gorgeous Lyric Symphony which owes a huge debt to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Zemlinsky's two orchestral symphonies are from his student days, but they're hugely assured, enjoyable pieces, filling in the gaps between Brahms, Strauss and Mahler. Brahms was in the audience for the premiere of the 1892 Symphony in D minor. You feel that he would have been impressed; Zemlinsky's dark orchestral colours suggest the older composer without ever sounding like too obvious a tribute, and the first movement has a confident sense of purpose and plenty of forward motion. The slow movement recalls both Dvořák and Bruckner, and if the finale's blazing D major conclusion doesn't quite feel hard-earned, it's brilliantly scored.
More impressive is the 1897 Symphony in B flat. 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. Zemlinsky alludes to the passacaglia of Brahms 4 in his finale. As with the earlier work, the dramatic major key coda sounds as if it's been clumsily bolted on as an afterthought, but it provides plenty of uplift. 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.