A new generation of classical music -- Michael Walsh reviews recent releases from up-and-coming artists of the genre

Concertos for Orchestra

A new generation of classical music

One of the most important duties of any record company is to seek out and promote able young performers. In rock, of course, this is no problem, since fresh talent and new music are the industry’s lifeblood. The classical-music business, how-ever, has long relied on its bread-and-butter artists to sell discs — the Karajans, Horowitzes, Fischer-Dieskaus, and Bernsteins who have dominated the catalog for decades. Well, Karajan and Horowitz are dead now, Fischer-Dieskau is semiretired, and Bernstein is over 70. It’s time for the next generation to take over. And here they come…

Alexander Zemlinsky: Lieder
Barbara Bonney, soprano; Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo; Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor; Andreas Schmidt, baritone; with Cord Garben, piano (Deutsche Grammophon; CD)

For years, Zemlinsky was the Composer Nobody Knew, overshadowed by the two bigger names with which he was associated: Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg. Musical trivia experts knew that Zemlinsky was Mahler’s protege and Schoenberg’s teacher and brother-in-law, but beyond that, only a handful of elderly Viennese, it seemed, cared about his music. Over the past decade, though, Zemlinsky’s warmly romantic style has begun to find favor, and we are now in the midst of a thoroughgoing Zemlinsky revival.

This set gathers together all of Zemlinsky’s published songs (not included are about 40 unpublished ones that date from Zemlinsky’s Nazi-induced exile in America), ranging from the 1897 Lieder op. 2 to the 12 Lieder op. 27, written in 1937-38. Reminiscent by turns of Brahms, Wagner, and Mahler, what the songs lack in a strongly articulated, original voice they more than make up for in sheer appeal. The early songs are bedecked with melody but tinged with that distinctive quality of joyful sorrow that distinguishes Viennese art of the Jugendstil period. The sparer, more angular songs of op. 27 are more problematic — one of them, ”Misery,” is an incongruous blues sung to words by Langston Hughes. Kurt Weill did this kind of thing better — but there are some gems, too, among them the tender ”Entfuhrung” (”Abduction”) with subtly ironic words by Stefan George.

The four young singers — all under 41 — give a good account of themselves. Bonney is an American with a bright, pure voice and an artless, winning way with an art song. Born in Stockholm, von Otter is less natural, although her voice is superior. Schmidt, a German baritone, is strong and assured. Perhaps the best of the quartet is Blochwitz, who has a fine tenor reminiscent at times of the late Fritz Wunderlich. In sum, this is the ideal gift for the lieder lover who wants to glimpse the shape of things to come. B

Bartok and Lutoslawski: Concertos for Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting the Cleveland Orchestra (London; CD, T)

Very quietly, Dohnanyi, the scion of one of Germany’s most distinguished families — his grandfather was the composer Ernst von Dohnanyi, his brother was mayor of Hamburg, and his uncle was the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer — has turned the Cleveland Orchestra into the best in the U.S. Dohnanyi, 60, is that rarity, a major conductor who cares more about music than about the shape of his profile on Live From Lincoln Center. Conductor and orchestra move through these two modern showpieces with taste and aplomb; the ”look-ma-no-hands” hotdogging that so often disfigures the Bartok is, thankfully, absent. The recording could be a tad more exciting, but the elegance and poise are well worth the trade-off. A-

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4
Riccardo Chailly conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (London; CD, T)

The old calumny that an Italian can’t conduct German music has been around since before Toscanini, but a new generation of Italian conductors is really putting it to rest. Claudio Abbado in Berlin is one example; another is Chailly, who made a splash more than a decade ago leading Italian opera but who now has built up an impressive repertoire of German symphonies. Chailly never tries to force Bruckner’s magisterial pace in the radiant ”Romantic” Symphony, yet he revels in the orchestral color that infuses the sprawling score. This is a welcome alternative to the stern, holier-than-thou German approach that made generations of music lovers think Bruckner was just a boring Mahler clone. B+

Concertos for Orchestra
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