The Marx Romantic Concerto delivers what its title promises. The
upward surging exuberance of the open pages are a prelude to a
scintillatingly confident work in which decorative virtuosity and romantic
feeling meet. The atmosphere is Viennese rather than Russian. The harmonies
are tart and these reminded me of the orchestral works of Franz Schmidt.
The lebhaft first movement is the longest of the three at almost a
quarter of an hour and is packed with Straussian incident and Lisztian bravura
from the piano. The work lacks the distinctive creamy tunes you find in Korngold
whose name is also suggested by hearing this concerto. Equally Marxs
melodic invention is without the over-the-top sentimentality that occasionally
invades Korngolds luscious tunes. The first movement has the isolated
patch of piano noodling but, for the most part, variety, drive and strong
thematic invention hold the concerto together well and the closing moments
of the lebhaft are lambently wonderful. The central andante
is suitably poetic with richly-imbued passion and reminded me of
Saint-Saens piano concerto slow movements. Ardent joie-de-vivre return
for the final Allegro molto. This is interrupted by a Brahmsian episode
at 1:32 and even an oriental dance by a capering bassoon at 4.13. As the
booklet note by Brendan Carroll points out the constantly shifting material
also reminds the listener of Delius. The heroically piercing strings yearn
dreamily to great effect and if the ending seems perfunctory so much before
is memorable we leave the work with only a momentary sense of disappointment.
The notes suggest that it had disappeared from the repertoire by the mid-1930s.
This may well be true however as late as the 1980s Zubin Mehta conducted
the NYPO in a performance which exists on tape. The pianist was the temperamental
but brilliant Jorge Bolet.
Marxs Castelli Romani is probably a better work than the Romantic Concerto
if an old tape I have is anything to go by. I rather hope that Hyperion will
record the work. It deserves exposure and many will find it a rewarding
discovery. I am still trying to track down tapes of the orchestral Natur-trilogie
and the Marx Herbstsymphonie, both of which are likely to be strong works
of great colour and distinction. I am also anxious to hear Marxs three
string quartets and three piano quartets.
The Korngold work was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein (who else!). It has
fine and archetypically Korngoldian melodies (e.g. Track 5 - 0.42) complete
with lush string writing which the Scots despatch with creamy style. The
work is much more varied than the Marx and Korngolds effervescent
imagination is everywhere in evidence in a cornucopia of poetry and display.
Track 7 represents Korngold in the doldrums of inspiration although even
then there are flashes of novelty. Hamelins glittering diamond runs
and trills are part of the glorious bouquet of the Korngold work. It is the
presentation of the rose from Strausss Rosenkavalier that
comes through strongly in track 8. A warlike atmosphere pervades track 12
and this gives place in the following (and final) track to a determined and
No apologies for harping on about Marx at the expense of Korngold. EWK has
been given great and deserved attention over the last 15 years. Marx has
not. He is a singular figure and terribly neglected despite a crop of 150
songs from the early years of the century and a distinctive orchestral heritage
from the 1920s. We must hear more of his music.
The booklet notes are in English (7pp), French and German.
This is the eighteenth in Hyperions The Romantic Piano
Concerto series and is most sensitively and powerfully accomplished
by Hamelin (whose Medtner sonata cycle is one of the jewels of the Hyperion
- or any - catalogue), Vänskä and the BBC Scottish. The sound is
all you might expect: natural and with plenty of depth and power. These are
works and performances to which you will want to return.
See also Ian Lace's review