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Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
The Piano Concertos

Romantisches Klavierkonzert (Romantic Piano Concerto) (1919-20)
(I. Lebhaft (Allegro moderato) [16.53]; II. Nicht zu langsam (Andante affettuoso) [10.16]; III. Sehr lebhaft (Allegro molto) [13.18])
Castelli Romani for piano and orchestra (1929-30)
(I. Villa Hadriana. Allegro (ma non tanto) [11.07]; II. Tusculum. Andante [8.04]; III. Frascati. Presto [12.30])
David Lively (piano)
Bochum Symphony Orchestra/Steven Sloane
rec. Erholungshaus der Bayer Industry Services, Leverkusen, Germany, 13-17 Jan 2004. DDD
Complete Orchestral Music: Volume 4.

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It must have been about 1987 that my good friend Colin Scott-Sutherland loaned some old reel-to-reel tapes to me. It took me a while to find a suitable machine on which to play them. However when I did I had the pleasure of hearing a fragmentary 1950s broadcast of Patrick Piggott as soloist in Marx's Castelli Romani. It was, to be frank, a pretty awful sounding tape but here, clearly to be heard through all the grunge and crackle, was a deeply attractive and warmly impressionistic work. Friends in the USA had already sent me an exhilarating tape of Marx's Romantic piano concerto as played by Jorge Bolet circa 1980 with the NYPO conducted by Zubin Mehta. Colin then introduced me to some of the songs and to the big first violin sonata played by Peter Mountain and later recorded by Tobias Ringborg for Pavane.

Marx combines a number of traits. He is determinedly romantic. He is also a nature poet. His textures are saturated and typically the music has a decidedly Delian mien. Listen to the woodland relaxation as the stormy first movement of the Romantic Concerto pauses to gain its breath. The third movement of the Romantic Concerto returns to the Straussian effulgence of the first movement. There are also unblushing links with the piano concertos by Harty and Delius.

The soloist and orchestra achieve a sustained radiance and gorgeous romance; a sunset endlessly prolonged and renewed. Apologies for those left queasy by this purple prose; but be assured the music is so much better. Filigree decoration typical of Godowsky's Java Suite is at times offset by emotional depth. There are even traces of Rachmaninov's aristocratic heroism at 7.40 in the finale.

This ASV version by David Lively (who recorded the Furtwangler Symphonic Concerto for Marco Polo) is not a world premiere. The first recording was made for Hyperion in 1997. Marc-André Hamelin's version came out on CDA66990 [review]in 1998. That disc has the different advantage of variety. There the Marx concerto is harnessed to the Korngold Piano Concerto.

The comparative timings for the Romantic Concerto are:-

  Hamelin Lively
I 14:47 16:53
II 10:42 10:16
III 11:01 13:18

Not surprisingly, given these figures, Lively's approach accentuates the breadth and sunset grandeur of the Romantic Concerto. Hamelin and Osmo Vänskä on Hyperion are more tigerish. Neither version does any violence to the score which joyfully sustains this diversity of interpretation. Both avenues strike me as legitimate and enjoyable.
Marx's drenched romanticism continues into the Castelli Romani. Here the leonine weight of the orchestra is slimmed away from nineteenth century bravura into a romantically impressionistic web. It is not a complete change of gear: if you listen at 5:01 in the finale of the Romantic Concerto you will hear hints of de Falla and Rodrigo - a strong Iberian accent. The 'look and feel' of Castelli overall recall the crystalline hieratics of Bax's Symphonic Variations and Ireland's Legend. Other approximate comparators include the glitter of Gottschalk, de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Arthur Benjamin's Caribbean populist leanings and, from a previous generation, the Grieg and Saint-Saëns concertos. This is a world very closely related to Debussy's Faune wandering lost in wonder. The green sward of some Mediterranean elysian paradise can be heard in Tusculum. The finale is an effervescently high-spirited Respighian Presto romping along under title Frascati. It drops its guard when it slides into the 'kitsch' of what sounds like a cheeky Neapolitan song. The Austrian composer looks wistfully across the Alps into Italy with its easy-going optimism and humour. This is a work that lives dangerously for strait-laced concert audiences. Some may find its eager brightness too strong a mix and feel more at home with the Romantic Concerto. I happily endorse both and commend the Castelli to you as a companion to other works where sentimentality gets the upper hand. There's even a mandolin at 7:48. Link it with the lovely six piano concertos by Palmgren, the Stojowski pair, the Arensky and the Scriabin. This is a piece guaranteed to puncture any pomposity with its glitter and wholehearted humanity and honesty. The work ends in a grandeur linking back to the first movement but echoing with cathedral bells and a flourishingly majestic panache.

The notes are thorough though not ponderous, setting the two works in the context of Marx's life. They evince years of painstaking and costly research which Berkant Haydin has ploughed into making the Marx revival happen.
By the way, Mr Haydin's website is an object lesson in how to present compendiously encyclopedic information in an easily assimilable format. The structuring is logical and its merits are enhanced by the many audio extracts. Often these have been captured from rare and elusive broadcasts.

We wait impatiently for Marx's gorgeously epic Herbstsymphonie. This will prove a revelation; as densely and romantically luxurious as the Naturtrilogie which launched the series. I should also advance the ecstatic claims of the orchestral Nordland Rhapsodie and the choral-orchestral Herbstchor an Pan, Abendweise, Berghymne and Ein Neujahrshymnus. There are delights and discoveries yet to be made.

We are fortunate that such an important series is in the hands of Sanctuary-ASV who, across five Marx discs already issued, have demonstrated their tenacity, good taste and acumen. The breakthrough for Marx will come with his Herbstsymphonie which is next in line for recording with Sloane and the Bochum orchestra. The symphony is a work of heroic proportions; something of a Grail amongst Marxians and those who champion rare repertoire.

In age where at last Korngold, Bax, Miaskovsky, Foulds, Sorabji and Griffes are beginning to receive their due the merits of Marx's musical legacy are at long last finding both recognition, admiration and affection.


Rob Barnett



Orchestral Songs
String Quartets


Joseph Marx's epic Herbstsymphonie (1922) will receive its first complete performance in modern times at Graz in October 2005.
Monday/Tuesday, 24/25 October 2005 19:45 Stefaniensaal
Details and booking:-

For more information abot Marx please go to the Joseph Marx website at:


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