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CLASSICAL  January 2007

CLASSICAL January 2007

Subject:

The Non-Disney Versions

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 1 Jan 2007 11:52:51 -0600

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     Music on Themes by Andersen

*  Enna: The Little Match-Girl
*  Zemlinsky: Die Seejungfrau

Inger Dam-Jensen, soprano
Ylva Kihlberg, soprano
Danish National Radio Children's Choir
Danish National Radio Choir
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
Da Capo 8.226048  Total time: 75:18

Summary for the Busy Executive: Fading Romanticism.

Both composers created these works around the turn of the century, based
on well-known stories by Hans Christian Andersen.  August Enna, a Dane
of Sicilian-Jewish family (his guilt level must have soared into the
stratosphere), made his living as a commercial musician before turning
to composition.  He never studied formally with anyone.  He made his
name as an opera composer and, to judge by the work here, one strongly
influenced by Wagner.  He lived a long life, dying in 1939, his music
increasingly set aside.  Zemlinsky, of course, is the near-contemporary
of Mahler.  In his day, pre-World War I Vienna, his star burned brightly.
His reputation also went into eclipse as his idiom passed out of fashion.
Every so often, performers, particularly conductors, try to revive him.

The depressing thing about this CD is how good it is.  Neither of these
works suffers from incompetence or triviality or lack of poetic impulse.
On the other hand, you can see why the contemporary musicians whose works
have survived -- Debussy, Nielsen, Sibelius, Schoenberg, Mahler, Elgar,
and Strauss among others -- felt that they had to do something else.
Both Enna and Zemlinsky manipulate the compositional strategies of late
Romanticism as well as anybody, but their works remain fundamentally
weak.  The maneuvers come across as predictable and tired.

Enna, for example, gets a rich, typically Wagnerian sound from his
orchestra, but it's always the same sound.  In a work with full orchestra,
choir, and children's choir to boot, he gets hardly any color variety.
Also, for an opera composer, the work is curiously undramatic.  "The
Little Match Girl" may not have been the best choice for an opera, even
a short opera, and in its home country Enna's work survives mainly in
concert.  Andersen, like Dickens, mixes grim, sharply-observed reality,
with sentimentality.  Enna misses the first and settles for the second.
The emotions come across as conventionally as an eighteenth-century
pastorale.  The Wagnerianisms don't translate into psychological perception.

Zemlinsky's tone poem, on the other hand, uses the orchestra with Mahlerian
subtlety of color shift.  The colors themselves are gorgeous and at times
blazingly original.  It lacks, however, Mahler's incisive line and sense
of drama.  Die Seejungfrau ("The Little Mermaid") is one of those pieces
that allow you to leave the room for five minutes at a time (pick your
own five minutes) and return to pretty much where you left off, having
missed nothing of consequence.

The performances, on the other hand, are wonderful, with Dausgaard's
orchestra standing out.  Their sound is rich, Dausgaard's attention to
Zemlinsky's argument (such as it is) and pastel fadeaways superb.  I've
heard more celebrated orchestras and conductors in the Zemlinsky, and
the home team beats them all, in a live recording yet.  The sound is
studio-quality.  That is, you really can't tell it's a live performance
until you hear the chorus tromping on stage or the applause at the end
of each work.

Steve Schwartz

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