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Czeslaw MAREK (1891-1985)
Piano Works
Triptyque, op.8 [20:03]
Two Meditations*, op.10 [13:16]
Ballade, op.7 [8:52]
Deux Morceaux, op.4 [6:18]
12 Variations on an Original Theme, op.3 [13:45]
Chorale and Allegro, op.11 [12:23]
Echos de la Jeunesse: Suite de Six Esquisses, op.9 [14:45]
Petite Valse, op.19 [2:31]
Sarabande and Toccata, op.27 [11:31]
Three Jazz-Caprices, op.29 [9:04]
Two Foxtrots, op.35 [5:02]
Three Dances, op.39 [9:22]
Chant Varié, op.37 [6:42]
Suite, op.40 [15:43]
Marie-Catherine Girod (piano)
rec. St George's Church, Bristol, England, 1998. DDD
GUILD GMCD 7364/5 [74:37 + 74:40]

Experience Classicsonline

This release by Swiss label Guild of solo piano works by Polish-Swiss composer Czeslaw Marek is in fact a reissue, as the recording date suggests. Actually, it a composite re-issue, in that the two CDs are a re-jigged compilation, with new notes, from two different discs previously published just over a decade ago by the now 'assimilated' Austrian label Koch-Schwann in a multi-disc series that was universally praised at the time.

The booklet notes seem to indicate that these are Marek's complete works for solo piano, apart from the Petite Suite op.36a, which, along with two pieces for two pianos, the Sérénade Italienne op.16a and Annemarie op.38a - both in fact his own transcriptions of other works - appeared on a worthy companion volume of chamber music, also released in 2011 - see review. Guild have also now issued a third volume, this time of songs and choral works (GMCD 7366/67).

Marek's corpus of works was fairly small; in fact, he had more or less stopped composing, with less than 50 opuses to his name - including a fair bit of judicious recycling - by the time he was fifty, preferring to spend the second half of his very long life concentrating on pedagogy. The fourteen works in French pianist Marie-Catherine Girod's extended recital are randomly ordered, although CD2 features predominantly later works, not least a few items from Marek's 'jazz' period, during which he used the pseudonym 'Mark Mat' and wrote scintillating music surprisingly evocative of Gershwin. In any case, there is no doubt that this volume represents far greater value for money than the first, a generous 149 minutes versus a miserly 96.

Marek's post-war descent into relative oblivion is highly puzzling, but this mini-series from Guild should go some way towards facilitating his musical resurrection. This piano volume in particular must be considered one of the best re-releases of the year. The silly claim in the booklet notes that "Marek's piano oeuvre offers in its variety an entire cosmos of piano music history" is brazen hype, but the music on these two discs amounts to much more than a collection of salon music that many of the titles may suggest. The combination of lyricism, pathos, sincerity and unostentatious invention - what Marek himself described as "classically orientated late Romanticism" - may be considered ‘old hat’ in more captious quarters, but for those who judge music on its own merits, rather than by measuring it against what the avant-garde was doing at the time, it is beguiling in its splendour.

The influence of Chopin and Szymanowski is self-evident but discreet, and from outside Poland, Bach, Brahms, Debussy and Ravel feed into the cosmopolitan Swiss musical culture Marek also absorbed. There is beautiful music at every turn, and many of these works belong in every pianophile's collection and in every pianist's repertory, from the lilting, Schumannesque nostalgia of Echos de la Jeunesse op.9 to the rich textures of the Chorale and Allegro op.11. The opening Triptyque op.8, likely a personal reflection of Busoni's Fantasia Contrappuntistica, and the final Suite op.40 come from opposite ends of Marek's composing career, but for sheer brilliance of imagination they are quite unbeatable.

Sound quality is good throughout. The English-German booklet is neat and informative, though purchasers should be forewarned that Jürgen Schaarwächter, author of the new German-language notes, has also translated them into English with an impressive competence not matched by an understanding of idiom. As a consequence, the notes have their own definite 'German accent'. Much of the time it is hardly noticeable, but at its worst it borders on the surreal: "Additionaly [sic] Marek writes: 'Or order that my wife could make foot and leg exercises that are useful for the therapy of her sick legs, we took some dancing hours.'" When will labels finally comprehend that saving money through not employing a native proof-reader is false economy? Incidentally, the spelling 'Tryptique' in the track listing appears to be Guild's - Marek published his work in Polish as 'Tryptyk'; in some sources it is accepted as an alternative to the expected 'Triptyque' (to which the editor has altered the spelling).

Marie-Catherine Girod's genial interpretations in the previous volume are continued here, and, indeed, added to with sustained sparkle and insight, a poetic pianism to match Marek's. Her profile may not be high on an international scale - unusually nowadays, she does not appear to have her own website - but in France she has continued to record and perform: an online interview with a French pianophile site mentions a discography of around 30, from Mendelssohn's complete oeuvre for piano for the Saphir label to works by French composers obscure or modern, like Pierre-Octave Ferroud, Gustave Samazeuilh or the remarkable Paul le Flem; and to fondly-recalled recordings of the likes of York Bowen or Arnold Bax on the now defunct Opès 3D.

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