Marcel TYBERG (1893-1944)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1943) [36:49]
Piano Trio in F major (1936) [24:02]
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
Michael Ludwig (violin); Roman Mekinulov (cello); Ya-Fei Chuang (paino)
rec. Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, USA 9-11 May 2008 (Symphony); 23-24 February 2009 (Trio)
NAXOS 8.572236 [60:51]

Marcel Tyberg was born in Vienna, the son of accomplished musicians and of partly Jewish ancestry. His musical studies were undertaken there, before the family moved in 1916 to live near Abbazia, at that time part of Italy. His father died in 1927, and in the following years Tyberg earned his living from various musical activities including playing the organ in local churches and teaching. He composed music in a wide range of styles, and it is worth noting that his Second Symphony was premiered in the 1930s by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under no less a figure than Rafael Kubelik. Tyberg’s mother died in 1943, and shortly afterwards he was transported first to the Nazi prison camp Risiera di San Sabba, near Trieste, and thence to Auschwitz, where it is thought he died on the very last day of 1944.

Sensing what was likely to happen to him, Tyberg placed his scores in the safe keeping of a friend, Dr. Milan Mihich. They were then passed on to Dr. Mihich’s son, Enrico, who is also a doctor and is based in Buffalo. It was he who showed them to JoAnn Falletta, setting off a chain of events leading to a number of performances as well as the publication of this recording.

The Piano Trio is in three movements. The first movement is well constructed and is evidence that the composer possessed a fair melodic gift. Both stringed instruments, in particular, sing out, and control of line and texture is good. There are moments approaching something like passion, but overall the music is fairly easygoing. The second movement is also very melodious, with a mysterious central section where the composer allows himself rather more chromatic freedom than usual. The short finale is based on a rhythmic, dancing theme which is immediately attractive without being particularly distinctive. This judgement, indeed, could serve for the whole work.

The symphony was Tyberg’s final work. It opens in portentous gloom, with pizzicato lower strings and a solo from the tenor tuba. Bruckner is the composer who most immediately comes to mind at this point, and this symphonic opening brims with promise. As the movement progresses the mood alters, and further in it is Mendelssohn - but not, I think, Brahms - whose spirit is evoked. There’s a bit of Mahler in there too. That Tyberg was a highly accomplished musician is evident from the quality of the orchestral writing, a burnished, horn-rich sound, but with a clarity and transparency maintained even in the loudest passages. The second movement scherzo is dominated by a striking, rhythmic idea, but a greater composer would better have managed its development and transformation. The beautiful slow movement is perhaps the finest music on the disc, reaching a level of eloquence not achieved elsewhere. The finale is lively, light-hearted for the most part, but once again the composer seems limited in his ability to develop what is certainly most promising material into something more substantial and conclusive.

Edward Yadzinski, writing in the booklet, draws attention to a remarkable feature of this music, which is just how out of date it was. He gives a list of composers representing the wide range of musical styles emerging at the time, including of course Schoenberg; Webern was pretty much Tyberg’s exact contemporary. Tyberg’s music, on the other hand, could have been written by any minor, nineteenth-century Romantic composer. He appears to have been indifferent to what was in effect a musical revolution going on around him.

The performances of both works are outstandingly good. That of the Trio, by two string principals of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the excellent Ya-Fei Chuang, makes as good a case as possible for it. I suppose a finer performance of the Symphony is theoretically possible, but I am unable to imagine it. The recording of both works is well up to the usual Naxos standards.

This is very enjoyable music, highly professional and accomplished, but lacking the spark of greatness. It leads us to wonder at what was lost. 1,100,000 people died at Auschwitz - Birkenau alone. How many of them were poets, actors, doctors? Among the children, how many future international footballers were there, or pioneers of scientific research? And how many ordinary mothers and fathers? Perhaps Marcel Tyberg’s suitcase is hidden in the astounding mountain of suitcases one sees when one visits the sombre museum that Auschwitz has become. This disc is a fine memorial to him, and by extension, to many others, and thanks are due to the various charitable organisations that have contributed to the funding of it.

Much of the information above came from Edward Yadzinski’s excellent booklet note, and some from other sources, including Wikipedia. It was there that I found a sadly ironic piece of information. Marcel Tyberg’s father, Marcell, was born in the small town of Oswiecim in southern Poland, the very town chosen by the Nazis in 1940 as the site of a new camp, and renamed in German style, Auschwitz.

William Hedley

A fine memorial to a fine composer, well presented and magnificently performed…