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Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Romantisches Klavierkonzert (The Romantic Piano Concerto) (1919-20) [40.25]
Castelli Romani for piano and orchestra (1929-30) [31.41]
David Lively (piano)
Bochum Symphony Orchestra/Steven Sloane
Recorded at Erholunshaus der Bayer Industry Services, Lerverkusen, January 2004
ASV CD DCA 1174 [72.46]

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Marx’s Romantic Piano Concerto was written between 1919 and 1920 and is a generously warm-hearted work that sports a fecund optimism. It opens in surging Straussian mid-stream style and pitches the soloist into battle from the start. The see-saw between gorgeous extrovert Romanticism and moments of fugitive introspective lyricism is best exemplified between the orchestral writing, which can sound very Straussian, and the piano writing, which hews closer to Rachmaninov. The plasticity of those melody lines however is unarguably lissom and attractive and there’s also a distinctly Delian patina to some of the writing as well – all these three influences, if such they were, proving heady but not at all incompatible.

When Marx really fires his engine the ebullient romanticism-cum-impressionistic touches fuse with bravura technical demands to coruscating effect. These are the immediate impressions of the first movement; the second is altogether a more backward and nostalgic affair, a Pastorale with nevertheless plenty of pianistic finery to titillate the ear and some plush, firm, romantic chording. Some of the writing for piano filigree and supple wind tracery is exquisite and the strings, subdued and warm, add to the feeling of cool ravishment.

Later in his life, especially in his Second War Serenade, Sinfonia and Partita, Marx’s nostalgia became decidedly parochial but here nothing could be less like that. The opening of the finale cannily mirrors the opening of the first movement and Marx bedecks it with a loping wind theme, and some puckish orchestral material. He doesn’t stint the noble-heroic cantilever though and the brief undercutting of the piano’s vaunting bravura is another pleasing sign of his control over cause and effect.

Coupled with the Concerto is Castelli Romani in its first commercial recording. It was written a decade after the Romantic. Slimmed down from the bumptiously orchestrated earlier work this can sound rather too Respighi-like for its own good but it’s nevertheless a fascinating listen. The "Roman" motifs have an MGM shiver to them and the piano writing veers from incipient heroism to impressionist musing to a refined late nineteenth century salon style; try the strange, almost absent minded salon interlude towards the end of the first movement. All the while the colours are heady and in the central panel we have some RVW-like string and wind writing and yet more of Rachmaninov’s influence; when the strings scintillate however the piano dapples. There’s some trace of Iberia in the finale and a really free-spirited dance. You’ll find a popular Neapolitan song, as well - the sort that Gigli could have spun - as well as a mandolin, solo violin and all sorts of local colour and incident, topped by a heady conclusion.

The performances are warm and technically fine, drawing great richness from the orchestral writing and with Lively living up to his name in the decorative skittishness that co-exists with the virtuoso-pianistics elsewhere. With fine notes on board, this is a wild-card entry for lovers of rich brew and ebullient musical cross-pollination.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


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