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Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Eine Frühlingsmusik (1925) [23:09]
Idylle (1925) [15:40]
Feste Im Herbst (1946) [24:17]
Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien/Johannes Wildner
rec. ORF Radio Kulturhaus, Studio 6, 19-21 March 2007. DDD
CPO 7773202 [63:06]
Experience Classicsonline

Generous friends, radio and performer tapes and audio-cassettes. It was to these factors that I owed my early discovery of the music of Joseph Marx. In the days before the CD and its transforming effect on the recorded repertoire there was the long playing record – the LP. In its vinyl heyday between 1950 and 1983 the commercially available repertoire was comparatively narrow. There was little or no room for Marx; perhaps a speckle of his lieder – little more. This coincided with the grievous neglect that often followed the deaths in the 1950s and 1960s of so many composers whose style was at odds with the radically exploratory and dissonant ascendancy that then gripped college, performer, concert promoter and radio administrator. Marx died with few champions right in the middle of that inimical environment. On top of which his most ambitious orchestral works were at that stage more than three decades old so lacked even the superficial glamour of novelty. The 1970s saw a BBC broadcast of the big first Violin Sonata (Pavane) and a celebrity performance and a syndicated PBS New York broadcast of the Romantic Piano Concerto (Hyperion; ASV). The latter was by a high profile team of Jorge Bolet with the NYPO and Zubin Mehta. True North was changing if imperceptibly. Only over the last decade or so have record companies begun seriously to redress to balance. There have even been a couple of concert performances of his towering and lavishly opulent 70+ minute Herbstsymphonie in Graz in 2006 conducted by Michael Swierczewski. Leon Botstein gave it another outing very recently in New York with his American Symphony Orchestra.

In fact the present disc is linked to the 1923 Herbstsymphonie through Feste Im Herbst (aka Herbstfeier) which is a slimmed down version of the last movement of the Herbstsymphonie. This only goes to show how piled high and deep the Symphony is with the lushest cantilena. The similarities with Bax and Delius, with Strauss, Korngold and once or twice with Mahler are there to be heard. However the impression in primis is of an outdoor mystic-ecstatic original. Allow however for occasional excursions into village bucolica à la Alfvén: try 9:19 onwards. The lusciously lyrical and rhapsodically spontaneous Eine Frühlingsmusik has much the same majestic bearing but with less of the country-dance/Magyar element. Its tenor is that of the Delius of A Mass of Life, of the pantheistic Bax in his Spring Fire, Nympholept and Happy Forest, of Korngold and of Strauss yet without the self-absorption. He writes in sumptuous waves of sound, rippling sheets of lush string tone, wearily and happily ecstatic, sovereign brass oration and birdsong carried by the woodwind. The Idylle is also from his vintage years - the mid-1920s – the period of the Herbstsymphonie which is akin in idiom to these two works. It is a more restful, Mediterranean and warmly cradled work with the textures not quite as dense as in Eine Frühlingsmusik. By a strange coincidence I had been listening recently to the tone poem Wellen (Waves) by the very fine Adolfs Skulte – it is akin to that work in its oceanic swell, fitfully to Sibelius’s Oceanides and to Aubert’s Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand.

Here are three opulent scores, splendidly played and in execution only lacking the last weight of violin bullion. They invitingly awaiting discovery and are well supported by notes from Stefan Esser and Berkant Haydin. Esser and Haydin are also behind the recent Chandos CD of Marx’s Herbstchor an Pan. With Marx song CDs issued recently by ORF and Altarus the labels, top flight orchestras and conductors should be skirmishing over who has the privilege to issue the first commercial recording of Herbstsymphonie.

Rob Barnett




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