De Waart conducts Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2011, 12:00am

De Waart conducts Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: Feb 25

Music by the Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky can be disorienting. Active at the turn of the 20th century, his works often peg out allusions to Schoenberg, Wagner and Mahler that seem closer to plagiarism than stylistic influence.

But in the Lyric Symphony, Zemlinsky is resoundingly his own man (apart from a quick whiff of Messiaen). It's an extraordinary work, a seven-part song cycle for soprano (Malin Hartelius), baritone (Stephan Genz) and large orchestra in which the singers don't duet, reinforcing the work's literary thread of unrequited sensuality.

This is graphically reinforced by the orchestra; there's so much going on in parts of the score that the dilemma is whether to straighten its tie, or let it all hang out in a louche rush.

Such considerations were not an issue in this vapid performance under Edo de Waart. As the local premiere of such an intoxicating work, people should have reeled out of the hall with the scales fallen from their eyes; but it's doubtful anyone did. To be fair, there was little for the players to bounce off: standing in for an indisposed Konrad Jarbot, Genz simply didn't have the vocal amplitude for the part, while Hartelius expressed textual nuances more by facial expression than vocal colour.

Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings was Richard Strauss' gut-wrenching response to the bombing of his native Germany in the second world war. Chins on chests was the response of a large part of the balcony audience to this rambling performance. The 30-minute exercise in moulding pungent phrases into an intensely bitter-sweet whole was let down both by the direction and smudged intonation in the lead lines.

Written in his teens, Strauss' Serenade in E flat for 13 wind instruments was a curious opener for what followed; better to have kept it for a lunchtime recital.