Originally published on May 23
It’s apt that this review of Zemlinsky’s The Mermaid should sit adjacently to coverage of Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande, for not only were the men brothers-in-law (Schoenberg married Zemlinsky’s sister) but, more pertinently, both works were premiered at the same 1905 concert, the composers conducting, and Zemlinsky would go on to lead the belated (1924) first outing of Schoenberg’s Erwartung (1909), which is also included on the Chandos issue.
For The Mermaid, Viennese-born Zemlinsky (1871-1942) was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale (or should that be tail?) about a sea creature who craves being human and who falls for a prince, writing an extravagant/filmic fantasy for large orchestra that is very atmospheric, expressive and colourful, if at times wayward in terms of cohesion; however, the beauty and drama of the music outweighs any structural concerns one might have, and, anyway, there is Andersen’s narrative to consider. From sea-mists to romance to whooping it up: this is music to sink into, be thrilled by, and love.
Using Antony Beaumont’s 2013 edition of the score, Marc Albrecht and the Netherlands Philharmonic (strings are 126.96.36.199.9) give a performance (compiled from three concerts, the audience is hardly noticeable) that is full of flair, sensitivity and voluptuousness, dynamically/opulently recorded in the famed acoustic of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw during November 2018.
This forty-eight-minute account is unaccompanied – Zemlinsky’s Sinfonietta would have been a welcome partner – but quality before quantity at all times, and this is a quality release, on Pentatone PTC 5186 740.