Classical Records on CD: Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony BERG Three pieces from the `Lyric Suite'; Altenberg-Lieder James Johnson (baritone), Vlatka Orsanic (soprano) SWF SO / Michael Gielen Recorded 1994 Arte Nova / BMG 74321 27768 2

Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony takes its lead from Mahler's Song of the Earth. Both are symphonic song-cycles based on Eastern texts, Das Lied using Chinese T'ang Dynasty poetry, the Symphony an impassioned sequence of verses by Rabindranath Tagore. The decisive first movement tells of a restless man "athirst for faraway things" and the scherzo-like second of a young woman who tears a ruby chain from her neck and throws it under the wheels of a young prince's chariot.

Zemlinsky's score alternates rage with repose, sensuality with spiritual calm and Mahler with Berg; in fact, Berg actually quotes material from the Symphony's third movement in the Adagio appassionata of his own Lyric Suite. Which, of course, makes for an ideal coupling, though this is not Michael Gielen's only recording of the Zemlinsky: a 1981 BBC SO concert performance with Thomas Allen and Elisabeth Soderstrom (BBC Radio Classics) is vocally distinctive but slower and less well-played. Here urgency is the order of the day and there's a worthwhile "extra" in Berg's concisely crafted Altenberg-Lieder where Vlatka Orsanic is more forceful than subtle and Gielen makes the opening song's propulsive introduction sound decidedly pre-Minimalist.

No texts are supplied, but at a fiver or less this makes for an astonishing bargain.

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