Chamber Works of Henri Marteau And Alexander Zemlinsky
Henri Marteau composer
Alexander Zemlinsky composer
Mark Lieb clarinet
Navona Records is proud to present PHOENIX ENSEMBLE: CHAMBER WORKS OF HENRI MARTEAU AND ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY. The Phoenix Ensemble is a mixed instrument chamber music ensemble. Founded in 1991 by New York-based clarinetist Mark Lieb, the Phoenix Ensemble aims to “inspire a new and diverse audience for classical music.” They undertake this challenge by presenting two works by late romantic French composer Henri Marteau, who is relatively unknown in the music world, as well as presenting one work by Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky. Both composers were active at the turn of the 19th century.
The album’s three suites are presented in reverse chronological order, starting with the first ever recording of Henri Marteau’s Serenede, Op 20, which was penned in 1922. The four movement suite – which features 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet and 2 bassoons – begins with the delightful “Entranta,” a rollicking and regal composition that sets the tone for the entire nonet.
Next up is Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, Op 13, which Marteau composed in 1908. Like Serenede, the four movement work is again inspired by the light and charming work of French composers like Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák.
With the selection of a mostly mysterious composer in Henri Marteau, the Phoenix Ensemble makes a lesser-known body of work sound like an old classic, and they educate modern listeners about a composer who has been largely unnoticed in his own era and forgotten by the passage of time. In the album’s liner notes, the Phoenix Ensemble claim that Marteau’s compositions remind them of “Les Six, the French musical movement of the day led by composers Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric and Darius Milhaud, whose aim was to rebel against the overly serious and complex grandeur of Richard Wagner.”
The second composer featured by the Phoenix Ensemble is Alexander Zemlinsky, presenting Trio Op 3, which Zemlinsky wrote in 1896 at the tender age of 25. Trio Op 3 is a stunning display of originality, presented as a chamber trio (piano and cello joining Lieb on clarinet). It begins with a stirring first movement, “Allegro ma non troppo”, that immediately captures the listener’s attention. “Andante,” the second movement, is more expressive and evocative and even a bit moody, before the rousing third movement, “Allegro,” guides the suite to its conclusion. It’s in “Allegro” that Zemlinsky’s imaginative writing truly shines. The Phoenix Ensemble feels right at home in their performance, each note filled with confidence and charisma.
By presenting somewhat obscure works from the early 20th century, Mark Lieb and the Phoenix Ensemble are able to educate their listeners on some of the lesser known composers of a past era while leaving their own imprint on the works.