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Zemlinsky: Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy) / Alma Mahler: Lieder ~ Vermillion / Dohmen / Kruse / Chailly

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 11, 1997
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
  • Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
  • Composer: Alexander von Zemlinsky, Alma Mahler
  • Audio CD (November 11, 1997)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Decca / London
  • ASIN: B0000042GB
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,088 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Like 'Salome', 'a Florentine Tragedy' is one of Oscar Wilde's more florid contrivances, full of arch speeches weighed down by an 'aesthetic' vocabulary. Yet, as Strauss proved with his opera of 'Salome', what is exotically inert on the page can be vivid and exciting in a musical setting that mmets a text on its own terms.
And so Zemlinsky's one-act opera is as extravagant and colourful as Wilde's, but, by cutting down speeches, by enriching characters virtually non-existent in the text, he turns the play into something approaching Greek tragedy: concentrated, inexorable, full of dread and intolerable suspense, leading to a shocking climax, and an even more shocking conclusion. Zemlinsky reveals the work to be profoundly persicacious about marriage - the menage-a-trois plot uncovers basic drives behind the elaborate verbiage that are ugly and nasty, but, for all that, true.
The opera is pure pastiche Strauss, beginning with a 'Salome'-like explosion, and never letting up on the violent orchestral restlessness or melodies alternately epiphanical and orgasmic. Where Zemlinsky asserts himself is in the uncanny detail, a trumpet blast where you wouldn't expect it, or an inappropriate harp, giving a sense of being off-key to the opera.
Although the orchestration of Alma Mahler's songs here are reminiscent of Zemlinsky and the whole post-Strauss Viennese school, it cannot smother Mahler's greater originality. In these songs of dark and light, solitude and love, nature and towns, wandering and rest, there is a rapture that is unique, and a setting of text different from that of Schubert's, say, or Wagner's, one more sensitive to atmosphere and mood than words. These remarkable songs make us regret even more Gustav's insecurity.
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This opera is groundbreaking. It reminds of the shakespearian interaction of the first act of the Walkure, each note has a very large weight, yet the general mood is that of either free pleasure and glorious singing or terrible drama. Libretto included in english and german, the action goes very fast in this opera, it's quite close to Wozzeck in these terms.
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Format: Audio CD
It's said that Korngold was crushed by a reviewer who said that his music needed less corn and more gold. The same holds for Zemlinsky, whose overripe idiom sags as much as it soars and sounds almost identical to Korngold in Hollywood. The vocal writing is also reminiscent of Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, although Zemlinsky is rather devoid of melodic genius. For anyone who loves being caught like a fly on sticky paper, A Florentine Tragedy is a nice indulgence. The story is macabre--a revenge plot with the twist that the adulterous wife and her murderous husband get turned on by his crime: this is marriage counseling through homocide.

Decca recorded many worthy unknown works in its Entartete Musik series, devoted to (mostly Jewish) composers banned by the Nazis. Chailly contriubted all the instlallments devoted to Zemlinsky, I believe; this opera can also be had now in a budget two-fer of his. The singers are fine, and the orchestra plays gorgeously for the 53 min. length of the work.

I am not so enthusiastic about Alma Mahler's songs, newly orchestrated by the Matthews brothers (who also completed a version of the Mahler Tenth, less well than here). Although she has become a martyr to the feminist idea that women composers were stifled in a chauvanist culture, it would help if Alma had possessed greater talent to begin with. These songs seem pleasant but derivative, even dressed up with orchestral glitter.
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