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Joseph Marx (1882-1964)
Orchestral Songs and Choral Works
1. Herbstchor an Pan for Mixed Chorus, Boy’s Chorus, Organ and Orchestra (1911) [18:45]
Orchestral Songs (1908-1912):
2. Barkarole [7:01]
3. Zigeuner [2:40]
4. Der bescheidene Schäfer [2:10]
5. Selige Nacht [2:28]
6. Sommerlied [2;01]
7. Marienlied [2:36]
8. Maienblüten [1:57]
9. Waldseligkeit [1;12]
10. Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht [2:35]
11. Piemontesisches Volkslied [2:08]
12. Ständchen [2:00]
13. Hat dich die liebe berührt [2:37]
14. Morgengesang for Male Chorus and Orchestra (arr. Wassermann) (1910) [8:27]
15. Berghymne for Chorus and Orchestra (arr. Esser and Haydin) (unknown) [2:20]
16. Ein Neujahrhymnus for Chorus and Orchestra (arr. Esser and Haydin) (1914) [9:28]
Christine Brewer (soprano)
Trinity Boys Choir; Apollo Voices; BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek
rec. Maida Vale Studios, 15-16 May 2008 (songs); Watford Colosseum, 29 June 2008 (choral works). DDD
Text by Berkant Haydin and Stefan Esser.
CHANDOS CHAN10505 [71:33] 

 

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Marx’s career started with songs and it was these which made him world-famous. Around 1910 he began branching out into choral and chamber music, later to piano music and finally to the big orchestral works of the 1920s. On this disc we have his songs for high voice and orchestra. These comprise about half of his songs with orchestra. We also get four of his six choral works, written between 1910 and 1914. The songs will be known to some, especially as sung by Anna Maria Blasi on the second volume of ASV’s Marx series, but these are the first recordings of the choral works. These make the disc an essential one for Marx fans - I won’t say Marxists.
 

The first, Barkarole, is the longest; almost a vocal scena. Ms Brewer sings this well, but does not get to its emotional depths. More convincing is Zigeuner - this is one of her most convincing characterizations on the disc. Selige Nacht is a song that contains a lot of Marx’s personal philosophy; it is among the half-dozen best he wrote. The performance here is a little too measured for such a moving work. Marienlied is another beautiful song. Its encapsulation of the spirit of the poet Novalis is total and the song is beautifully orchestrated. Here too I felt Ms. Brewer did not enter into the spirit of things quite as much as possible, although the orchestra plays beautifully, as they do in Waldseligkeit, another well-known song. 

Ms. Brewer’s rendition of Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht is charming and she is ably supported by Bělohlávek. Maienblüten, another of Marx’s best songs, is also very well done. Unfortunately, the Piemontesisches Volkslied is overmiked. Completely successful is the charming Ständchen. The last song is Hat dich die liebe berührt. This is another of the composer’s best songs, but is handled here is a slightly overpowering way. 

In the Herbstchor an Pan we enter the world of Schreker and Zemlinsky, but with a neo-classical tone and with more of an evocation of mystery than even Schreker usually achieves. In the opening section the interweaving of the chorus and boys’ voices is especially notable. At the same time one is amazed that this constitutes Marx’s first adult orchestral work. The second section, actually describing Pan, belongs to a different world - much starker, not languishing. Perhaps most magnificent in the whole work is the middle of this section, describing the wind and the forest. The use of the orchestra is masterly, as is the composer’s manipulation of bitonality. The third section continues the celebration of nature, through a variety of moods and tonalities, and with solo voices emerging beautifully from the chorus. A tenor solo introduces the final section, followed by an orchestral reworking of the work’s main themes. The chorus returns, accompanied by organ, making way for an apotheosis both grandiose and touching, leading to the joining of winter and spring. Both the choral writing and the amazing orchestration make this work almost unequalled among German-language choral works of the time. Its neglect for all these years is criminal. 

Morgengesang was written right before the Herbstchor an Pan, but it is more granitic and stately. For this reason one wishes it had been presented with its original accompaniment of brass, organ and timpani. However, the orchestration does not get in the way of the thrilling opening fanfares or of the excellent development of the opening material, especially in the third and fourth verses, leading to a triumphant finale. Even more impressive is the short Berghymnus, rediscovered and orchestrated in 2005 by Marx stalwarts Esser and Haydin. Although only two minutes long, the widespread harmonies and complex choral writing seem to take us to the top of a mountain, almost like a small and more touching Alpine Symphony. During his lifetime, Marx’s best-known choral work was the Neujahrhymnus, one of his very few works with a religious text, although the composer wrote it himself. Esser and Haydin have orchestrated the original organ accompaniment in an effort to revive the work’s popularity. Here I think it’s a wise step as one sees Marx moving towards many of the harmonic characteristics of the later orchestral works. The work also demonstrates the composer’s ability to combine lyricism with formal control and this probably explains its former popularity. The finale is even more thrilling than that of the Morgengesang. 

Christine Brewer does a good job with many of the orchestral songs, but overall I would say that Angela Maria Blasi on ASV (see review) gives more ecstatic renditions of individual songs and shows more variety when one takes the songs as a group. Bělohlávek seems to follow her lead without livening things up when a little help is needed, unlike Steven Sloane on ASV. However, when it comes to the choral works Bělohlávek truly understands the core of Marx - polyphonic flow and mastery of stunning modulation. The orchestra is right with him and the sound in the Maida Vale studios is clear. The various choral groups are competent, but they have less understanding of the polyphonic aspects of the music and sometimes descend into mushiness. In this they are not helped by the acoustic of the Watford Colosseum, which further muddies the sound. I would recommend purchase of this disk, even if one has the disc with Ms. Blasi, just for the choral works, which must count among the composer’s most winning compositions and indeed occupy a unique place in the choral repertoire.

William Kreindler

see also Reviews by Jonathan Woolf and Rob Barnett
 

 





 


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