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Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Alt-Wiener Serenaden (1941-42)
Partita in Modo Antico (1937-38 arranged 1945)
Sinfonia in Modo Classico (1940-41 arranged 1944)
Bochum Symphony Orchestra/Steven Sloane
Recorded in Stadhalle, Wuppertal, April 2003
ASV CD DCA 1158 [76.45]

 

If you know Marx only as the impressionistic-romantic so influenced by the coagulation of Debussy and Scriabin you will be shocked, to say the least, by these, amongst his final works. The Partita and Sinfonia began as works for quartet and are available in that form on ASV played by the Lydian Quartet. Marx then expanded them for string orchestra. The Alt-Wiener Serenaden was written for "large orchestra." All are profoundly backward-looking works, what in the old days one would routinely have condemned as conservative. They look more to Haydn and Palestrina than to any contemporary frame of reference though there are hints of Brahms and Reger, another Marxian lodestar, in the Sinfonia.

The Alt-Wiener Serenaden was written during 1941 and 1942. It’s tempting to ascribe some extra musical significance to the fact that it is so immersed in the late eighteenth century along with the Haydnesque-Straussian (that’s the Waltz King not Richard) Menuetto. The most engaging is the last of the four movements, a well-scored Scherzo in March form – capricious, full of fresh air. The Partita in Modo Antico is the only work of the three to have been written before the outbreak of the War; significantly perhaps Marx arranged it for string orchestra in 1945. It employs the mixolydian mode to a considerable degree, his erstwhile romantic orchestration not simply stripped down but utterly rejected in favour of pieties and a kind of intimate communing with the past. In its Phrygian way the Adagio reminds one of the Tallis Fantasia though its threnody, if that’s what it is, is wistful.

The Sinfonia in Modo Classico (1940-41, arranged 1944) strikes much the same note; Haydnesque classicism with a mildly Regerian slow movement which does at least touch a deeper, more ambiguously winding note – a kind of wayward lyricism. The finale is back to the Eighteenth century – modo classico indeed.

Performances are spruce and bright. The Bochum Symphony is a touch lightweight and at one or two moments things aren’t quite together but there are nicely taken solos for the string principals and woodwinds; very appropriate in terms of weight and colour. I should add that this is apparently a world premiere recording of the Serenade and premiere recordings, in string orchestra guise, of the other two works.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett



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