> Korngold, Marx Piano Concertos [GL]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Piano Concerto in C sharp for the left hand
Joseph MARX (1882-1964)

Romantisches Klavierkonzert (first recording)
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
recorded on 19 and 20 June 1997, Glasgow
The Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series – No. 18
HYPERION CDA66990 [64:39]


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Hyperion are to be congratulated on another fine release in their Romantic Piano Concerto series not the least for the ‘discovery’ of Austrian composer Joseph Marx. This is not the first time that any of his music has been recorded but certainly previous releases (on Solstice FY and Etcetera) have been restricted to chamber music and Lieder. On the evidence of this lovely piano concerto, this neglect is to be regretted. Marx composed a considerable amount of music: many piano works, chamber music, over 200 exquisite songs, large-scale choral works and a symphonic poem. None seem to have been performed over the last fifty years. Marx was influenced by Brahms, Schumann and Max Reger and his style is thought to bridge those of Brahms, Wolf and Schoenberg.

An opening bravura orchestral tutti ushers in the piano in cadenza-style. The language is Romantic and Brahmsian. Woodwinds deepen the colour of the theme. The piano writing is heavily accentuated with powerful octaves over a fulsome orchestral backing. A slower and very expressive theme full of rich harmonies contrasts and there is a brief scherzo-like section in 6/8 time leads to several climaxes when the BBC SO under Osma Vänskä display splendid virtuosity.

The slow movement begins in calm pastoral mood with the piano contributing an appealing plaintive melody that builds to a crescendo with spread chords and chromatic arpeggios - in mood not unlike the cinematic Korngold. The piano distances itself in elegiac mood for a while before the orchestra joins in for the final chords.

The final movement commences in a jolly robust mood with dance rhythms and playful material woven into a musical tapestry, glittering and colourful. In the coda, Marc-André Hamelin demonstrates his musicianship in full, brilliant management of the challenges of the score; listen for them – double, consecutive chromatic and split-octaves and syncopated spread chords. Then there is the triumphant orchestral finale.

Please, Hyperion, let’s hear more Marx!

Much better known for his film music, Korngold wrote his concerto for the left hand around 1922-23 for Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm in the Great War. It was first performed in Vienna, in September 1924, by Wittgenstein who owned the performing rights so that it was not played by any other pianists until after his death in 1961. It was then resurrected by the American pianist Gary Graffman. The concerto is reminiscent of the music Korngold was to write for the film Of Human Bondage. The work was written for performance in one continuous movement using a full orchestra. Confusingly, the concerto’s opening phrase is in C major which leads to a tremendous C sharp minor chord. The adventurous music threads its way through several key changes with the melody rising and falling dramatically, then in contrasting romantic warmth, continually teasing the ear. Luxurious and scherzo-like material contrasts with more sober utterances. Music for the trombone features strongly. The piano echoes the sombre mood with strange dissonant chords followed by spread chords in differing keys. Harp, violas, and flutes add colour. A strange waltz is countered by wistful flutes. A solo horn sounds menacingly. Skittish, witty devilish material passes. Bombast and harsh dissonances are balanced by passages of lyrical beauty. There is seemingly no end to Korngold’s clever harmonies and orchestrations.

Exciting compositions sumptuously played by Hamelin and the BBC Scottish Orchestra. The Marx work is a real find and the recording companies should explore his music further.
Grace Lace


See also review by Rob Barnett

Complete Hyperion Romantic Piano Concert series

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