After far too long a period Marx is becoming
better known - at least on CD. His degree was from the University
of Graz but his celebrity and most of his mature life was centred
on Vienna. His local contemporaries were Schreker and Korngold
and it is Korngold whose auburn flowing melody is often suggested
by the music on this disc.
This sonata here is accorded its world premiere
recording. It is a massive hour long rhapsodic work deeply rooted
in the late-romantic world. It dates from just before the Great
War. Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire -
an edifice no longer able to tell the difference between its
high noon and its sunset. However so far as music is concerned
the mixed influences of the many nations comprised in the empire
made a rich soil. Marx himself had Italian blood via his mother’s
side of the family and the bel canto influence is very
apparent in this music. The booklet mentions Respighi as a composer
recalled in the music of the Marx Romantic Piano Concerto
(revived by Jorge Bolet and recorded on Hyperion) and the yet
to be recorded but absolutely gorgeous Castelli Romani for
piano and orchestra.
Two other composers will come to mind when
listening to this music. Both have elements of the glorious
sunset in their music. Delius (whose music is more Franco-German
than it is English) whose suite, violin sonatas and violin concerto
seem to be from the same block as the present Marx sonata. The
‘Swiss Schubert’: Othmar Schoeck is also a reference point -
try his violin concerto already recorded on CD at least three
times. If you already like the music of either of these composers
then you must hear this rewarding sonata. The only down-side
is the time-span across which Marx’s material is deployed but
more of that later.
The music can sound uncannily English - rather
like the pastoral Howells (Piano Quartet), Gurney (Western
Playland or Ludlow and Teme) and even John Ireland
(especially the first violin sonata). More often however the
creamy Viennese style asserts itself. Marx, like Schoeck, wrote
lieder and his sympathy for the human voice and for naturally
singable melodic lines is apparent throughout the work. The
flow of melody across such a long time-span is, of course, a
challenge. This is a challenge which Marx does not completely
trounce. There are moments when you wonder if the sonata might
have been more pleasing if it spanned 45 minutes rather than
60 minutes. That said I would not want to be without the complete
work which is of overflowing richness.
Both Ringborg and Blumenthal (a name much more
familiar during the 1970s) are entirely in sympathy with this
music. There is no sense of apology. Ringborn leans into the
voluptuous romance of the music - definitely the lead partner.
It is only in the final movement when I wondered momentarily
whether the artists’ concentration and interest had slipped.
I came to know this music only comparatively
recently from a copy loaned by a friend and taken down from
a BBC broadcast. The performers there were Peter Mountain and
Angela Dale. Their 1970s studio performance was passionate but
does not have cohesion to the same degree as the Pavane account.
The warm small concert-hall sound on the Pavane disc is very
Superb bilingual (English and French) notes
by Michel Fleury whose French language book Impressionisme
et la Musique (published in the mid-1990s in paperback)
is well worth seeking out.
Pavane’s design decisions are faultless. The
CD and its packaging look good and the notes are beautifully
and thoughtfully laid out.
Interesting to note that Marx’s compositions
fall into clearly delineated phases. 1911-20 was marked by many
songs, solo piano pieces and by a clutch of chamber works. 1920-30
included the orchestral works which we must hear soon and all
too few of which are available on CD: Eine Herbstsinfonie
(1920), Naturtrilogie (1922-5) and the two piano
concertante works mentioned above. We desperately need recordings
of the two orchestral works and of the Castelli Romani.
Pavane are intending a second Marx violin sonata
disc which will include the much more compact Fruhlingssonate
and a selection of piano music. This may well be issued
later this year.
Once again Pavane, as one of the enterprising
‘minors’, shows the larger companies how to do it. I am convinced
that we will see the internationals further taking up Marx’s
chamber music within the next 5 years. When that happens the
Ringborg account will be the benchmark. It will take some beating.
Recommended to all enthusiasts of the late romantics and especially
those who follow the composers mentioned above.