The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Chamber music from the hothouse of late 19th-century Vienna
Musicians: Zemlinsky Quartet, Josef Kluso? (viola) Michal Ka?ka (cello) Jaromír Klepá? (piano) Lucie Hájková (soprano)
Composer: Zemlinsky

Thanks to the scholarship of Antony Beaumont, many previously unknown works by fin-de-siècle Viennese composer Alexander Zemlinsky are finally being heard. This recording brings together his early chamber music, from the 1880s and 90s, and includes the striking Maiblumen for soprano and string sextet, and the Cello Sonata first recorded by Raphael Wallfisch in 2006.

It doesn’t take many bars of Maiblumen, with its rich scoring and emotionally charged atmosphere, before Verklärte Nacht comes to mind. Both, it transpires, were written at about the same time, Maiblumen setting words by the poet Richard Dehmel, whose writing also inspired Schoenberg’s work. The Czech performers give vivid and moving accounts both of this work and of the two surviving movements of Zemlinsky’s String Quintet, whose luminous colours are highlighted by spot-on-tuning in the chords and intimate recorded sound.

I find the performance of the Cello Sonata by Zemlinsky Quartet cellist Vladimír Fortin strangely disengaged and unengaging; only in the last movement does he seem really to get inside the music. The Three Pieces could almost be Schumann Volkston miniatures, with the light-hearted but forthright interplay and dreamy central section of the ‘Humoresque’ and a beautifully executed sotto voce reprise in the ‘Lied’.