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Sinfini Music, August 2014

Another belter from the NZSO, this one demonstrating even more clearly what a classy modern string sound the orchestra has, as heard in Zemlinsky’s gorgeous, rhapsodic tone poem on The Little Mermaid.© 2014 Sinfini Music

Robert R. Reilly, March 2010

Late Romantic music was also very rich and overripe, as in Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (“The Mermaid”), after Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same title…The style of this intense and highly atmospheric music is redolent of early Schoenberg, without its hints of morbidity. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under James Judd, gives this music the sheen it requires. You will be swept away. The accompanying Sinfonietta from 1934 shows exactly what the post-Romantic meant: The lushness is gone, and in its place is music that is more acerbic and angular…This is another outstanding bargain from Naxos (8.570240).

James H. North
Fanfare, January 2010

Naxos stress clarity; the recording seems close-miked, which captures the instruments well…It is a fitting solution for this absolute music…

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, December 2009

Its arguments are clear cut and easy to follow, and follow them we do, with a joy and ease of ear that only the best composers can provide. The virtuosity and passion are a pleasure to hear, culminating in one of the finest scores the composer produced.

Wholeheartedly recommended as an essential post-romantic release.

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, November 2009

Sinfonietta is spikier and edgier than Mermaid, and neither needs nor wants Mermaid’s opulence. What it does need, Judd and the New Zealand Symphony supply: intensity, clear tone, jewel-like textures, sleek lines, and style. The outer movements neatly produce mysterious nostalgic overtones and subtle lyricism. The slow movement is beautifully scaled and ends exquisitely.

David Hurwitz, October 2009

Believe it or not, this is at least the third recording of this particular coupling. Aside from the Dausgaard listed above, there’s also a set with James Conlon on EMI (probably out of print), and all of them are generally very good. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra hasn’t quite the polish of Dausgaard’s Danish forces, and in the Sinfonietta greater familiarity with the music might have led to a more nuanced handling of Zemlinsky’s very detailed dynamic markings, but there’s very little here to criticize. James Judd usually does well in music of this period, and in The Mermaid he has the orchestra sounding larger and more lush than usual, with surprisingly rich strings and a suitably dense, saturated sonority. The work itself does go on a bit too long, and one of its main themes sounds stolen from Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, but that’s hardly the fault of the performance, and the engineering is also quite good, without the oddities of balance that sometimes afflict productions from this source. A fine disc, and a very nice introduction to the composer generally.

Erik Levi
BBC Music Magazine, October 2009

A fine achievement. James Judd certainly galvanises the NZSO into playing this challenging score with sensitivity and a good deal of virtuosity.

Andrew Mellor
Classic FM, September 2009


This music needs to sounds elegant and louche. And in this performance from the NZSO, it does: the orchestra’s rich inner warmth evokes the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, while its string texture is remarkable—with a genuine, audible, gossamer-like sheen…James Judd offers [a stamp of direction and purpose], and his feel for the composer’s aesthetic of beauty is acute.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, August 2009

This new recording competes very favourably with the two earlier Chandos recordings of Die Seejungfrau…The attractiveness and accessibility of Zemlinsky’s Fantasy has ensured its increasing popularity. It is extraordinarily evocative music—wonderfully tuneful. Little wonder that Zemlinsky influenced Korngold’s use of luscious orchestration…The work, conceived in the grand Late-Romantic tradition, is scored for a large orchestra. Influences of Richard Strauss, especially, and Tchaikovsky are clear. There is atmospheric material for the opening scene on the seabed, powerfully evocative music for the storm that shipwrecks the prince, erotic, voluptuous, perfumed music for the mermaid’s dreaming of love and immortality and of yearning and sweet devotion for her unresponsive prince.

Judd’s reading is sumptuously evocative of the sea in its calm and stormy turbulence; and fully committed to the work’s heart-rending emotional drama. The Fantasy, as conceived by Zemlinsky, is more concerned with thematic development than literal ‘mickey-mousing’ evocations. The Naxos sound engineering is first class too.

The Sinfonietta of 1934 is quite a different matter. Three decades after The Mermaid Zemlinsky was on a much more astringent path, one closer to that trodden by Stravinsky, Mahler and Hindemith. The style and elegance of Zemlinsky’s old Vienna was fast disappearing. Here there is a much spikier outlook, a sardonic tread to the music, an air of disillusion. Bitter, ironic wit is juxtaposed with the occasional nostalgic backward-glancing, sweet lyricism—all tinged with heavy poignancy. Brutality jostles dreaming. Judd probes deeply into this extraordinary work’s fatalism and disenchantment…I would not like to be without this terrifically exciting and evocative new album by the New Zealand Orchestra. At super bargain price it has to be irresistible.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2009

Had Richard Strauss never been born, Alexander von Zemlinsky would have been one of today’s most famous and frequently performed composers, a fact reinforced by this outstanding release. Like Strauss he enjoyed a double career as a composer and conductor, having studied with Fuchs at the Vienna Conservatoire and graduated from there at the age of twenty-one. As a conductor he was very highly regarded, particularly in the opera houses of Prague and Berlin, and he was playing a major role on the European scene until he decided it was time to avoid the growth of Fascism in Austria, emigrating to the United States in 1938. He died there only four years after his arrival, many of his scores unpublished and left in manuscript form. Schoenberg and Mahler had offered encouragement to the young composer, and it was to be the early music of Schoenberg that provided the inspiration for Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid). Cast in three extended movements it is, all but in name, a symphony, the scoring even more luxurious than the most erotic passages of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The idea came from Hans Christian Anderson’s sad fairy-tale of the mermaid who falls in love with the prince that she has saved from drowning. She enters into a pact with the sea-witch to make her mortal, but finds out the prince is already betrothed. Returning to the sea she is turned into foam and born away by the wind. That story is here graphically related, Zemlinsky a master of orchestration, though at the time he was only twenty-two. The Sinfonietta, from 1934, forms part of his mature years as a composer, its relative brevity very much in line with music of that period. Purely tonal in concept, its central Ballade is very attractive, the finale showing an uncharacteristic aggression. Both works have previously enjoyed outstanding recordings, and this is no less remarkable, the New Zealand orchestra playing the sumptuous passages with great relish, the engineers doing their part with clearly defined inner detail.

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