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Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Alt-Wiener Serenaden (1941-42) [18:36]
Partita in Modo Antico (1937-38, arr. 1945) [31:08]
Sinfonia in Modo Classico (1940-41, arr. 1944) [25:47]
Bochum Symphony Orchestra/Steven Sloane
rec. Stadthalle, Wuppertal, Germany, 24-30 April 2003. DDD

This, by my reckoning, is the third instalment in ASV’s (now Sanctuary’s) project to record Joseph Marx’s complete orchestral music. While there was a likeness in style between volumes 1 (Natur-trilogie ASV CD DCA 1137) and 2 (orchestral songs and Verklärtes Jahr ASV CD DCA 1164) this selection represents a departure from the voluptuous nature paintings of the 1920s and 1930s. All these works compare somewhat with the difference in style between Richard Strauss as tone poet and Richard Strauss the composer of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.

The Alt-Wiener Serenaden is in four movements written much in the shadow of Hayn’s Viennese legacy. The Intrada is a confident confection - a hybrid of Handelian grandeur and gracious song - as in Elizabethan Serenade. The Aria is taken at a slow and liquidly-moving pace, warm and a touch Brahmsian (Second Symphony) with the added colouring of a harpsichord. The Minuet is quicker without being in any way a scherzo. Its pacing reflects a sedate waltz which moves from transparent texture to gorgeous apparel in a flowing together of transitions and awakenings. Lastly the Presto ambles smartly along with the walker catching glimpses from time to time of imperial vistas among the less exalted views which are never less than charming. This high-hearted confidence recalls Frank Bridge’s Suite for Strings tilt and even looks back at Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro. This work was given its premiere by Karl Böhm and the Vienna Phil on 14 April 1942. It celebrates that orchestra’s centenary. Marx (and Sloane) keep things mobile fighting the tendency to cloy or coagulate.

Very much in step with the Serenaden is the four movement Partita in Modo Antico. Although it predates the Serenaden it is clearly cut from similar cloth. This is however a work of Haydnesque simplicity. While there are some hints of his lush romantic style of the 1920s in the Serenaden that voice is absent completely in this music. Again, if anything, we hear the delicately affecting simplicity of Bridge’s probingly nostalgic music for strings interlaced with the devotional austerity of Palestrina. If you like playful string music try the Vivace of the final Presto.

Then comes the Sinfonia in Modo Classico originally written like the Partita for string quartet (both quartet versions plus the Chromatico are on ASV CD DCA 1073) but arranged for orchestra in the mid-1940s. Again the ambience is rather like romantic Bridge offset, in the first of the four movements, by some Mahlerian ‘Ländlerisch’ touches. The glistening Adagio is more romantic but by no means weighed down with the sort of luxuriant profusion to be found in the Natur-Trilogie. It on occasions seems to look toward a sort of Nimrod nobility. The Tempo di Menuetto looks across the years to the equivalent third movement in the Serenaden. The Poco presto finale is a romantically affectionate and springy mood picture with admiring glances cast in the direction of Bliss’s Music for Strings (without quite the complexity of that work), Wirén’s Serenade and again towards Bridge and the genre pieces such as Rosemary.

Good to see Steven Sloane, who seems ideally sympathetic to Marx’s varied idioms, at the helm. His Bochum orchestra rise to the challenge of such richly furnished music. I was very pleased to see that he is also recording for Capriccio in a recently released recital of Bloch’s early orchestral music. Before too long I hope that we will be seeing the release of his and David Lively’s CD of the two Marx piano concertos so that we can at last hear the Castelli Romana concerto in all its romantically luxurious Italianate panoply. After that the major revelation will be the long-awaited premiere recording of Marx’s massive Herbst-Symphonie.

As ever the CD is greatly strengthened by the notes written by Berkant Haydin who single-handedly wrought the Marx renaissance we are now enjoying. His website is still the definitive and outstanding source of information about Marx.

The Marx renaissance opens a fresh chapter here in music that looks to Germany’s musical heritage with results that are light-of-heart yet serenely nostalgic.

Rob Barnett

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