Czesław MAREK (1891-1985)
Violin Sonata, op.13 [23:48]
*Suite de 4 Morceaux, for violin & piano, op.18 [21:41]
Berceuse, for violin & piano, op.26 [3:01]
2 Pièces Romantiques, for harp, op.31 [8:54]
Ondine, for two harps, op.32 [6:54]
Rondeau, for four harps, op.33 [3:28]
Petite Suite in the treble clef, for piano, op.36a [8:03]
Canzone Solenelle & Gavotte in the Ancient Style, for cello & piano, op.18a [8:39]
**Sérénade Italienne, for two pianos, op.16a [4:32]
**Annemarie, for two pianos, op.38a [6:51]
Marie-Catherine Girod (piano)
*Jitka Čechová (piano)
**Ludmila Janowska (piano II)
Ingolf Turban (violin)
Richard Jenkinson (cello)
Gabriella dall'Ollio, Catherine White, Patrizia Maier, Hugh Webb (harps)
rec. St George's Church, Bristol, England, 1998. DDD
GUILD GMCD 7362/3 [48:30 + 47:21] 

This release by Swiss label Guild of an assortment of chamber and solo works by Polish-Swiss composer Czesław Marek is in fact a re-issue, as the recording date suggests. It is a composite re-issue, in that the two CDs are a compilation from different discs previously published by the now lost Austrian label Koch Schwann in a multi-disc series that was universally praised at the time (other discs in that series: review review). There is, therefore, a unity of quality and performance in the recordings reproduced here in a convenient and reasonably priced package.
The first disc groups together the three works for violin and piano, including the slight but highly expressive Berceuse, dedicated "A ma femme". The notes describe the Violin Sonata op.13 as Marek's most important chamber work, and it was also his first - the implication being not that his music went downhill afterwards, but rather that his corpus of works was fairly small; in fact, he had more or less stopped composing by the time he was fifty. Like virtually all Marek's music, the generally sunny Violin Sonata is a lyrical work of considerable pathos, betraying no sign of its First World War backdrop. Much the same may be said of the unonstentatiously virtuosic Suite de 4 Morceaux op.18, which Marek also dedicated to his wife, the violinist Claire Hofer. The second and third movements are entitled Canzone Solenelle and Gavotte in the Ancient Style, two pieces which Marek later adapted as his op.18a, recorded on disc 2 (see below).
On the second disc pride of place rightly goes to the three works for harp, although two are arrangements of other composers' pieces: Ondine, is Marek's fashioning for two harps of a movement from Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, whilst Rondeau is an arrangement for four harps of a section of Rameau's Les Tourbillons. And here Marek has made a thing of beauty out of Rameau's already delightful tune - no listener will get past this without replaying it immediately! it may seem rather cheeky for Marek to give the works an opus number of his own, but they are much more than mere transcriptions. The one original, the two Romantic Pieces that make up his opus 31, are "open confessions to French impressionism", as the booklet notes put it - an epithet that applies almost equally to Ondine. Coincidentally or not, a motif in the first Piece is very reminiscent of the Rondeau. Such a pity, on this all too brief evidence, that Marek did not write more for harp!
The Petite Suite for solo piano was written with young - talented - amateurs in mind, with both hands remaining in the treble clef throughout. More of Marek's piano works are available on a companion disc released in August 2011 (Guild GMCD 7364/65). Meanwhile, his only two works for two pianos are both transcriptions of other pieces: the dreamy, lilting Sérénade Italienne is the slow movement of his Sinfonietta op.16, and the last work on this double album, Annemarie, is from one of Marek's own songs, and shows the composer in lighter mode - the piece is aptly subtitle 'Jazz-Humoreske'.
Finally, there is nothing solemn about the ravishingly mellow Canzone Solenelle that goes with a jaunty, ironically titled Gavotte in the Ancient Style to make up Marek's op.18a for cello and piano. This work belongs more naturally on the first disc with the Suite op.18, but even rather randomly breaking up the piano pieces as it does, it is lovely music to anyone's ears.
Sound quality is pretty good throughout. The English-German booklet is well designed and informative. Its only real slip-up is its failure to indicate unambiguously which soloists play the one and two-harp works. None of the performers in these recordings is particularly high-profile, but these are all interpretations from the high end of the spectrum, especially Ingolf Turban and Jitka Čechová's sustained team effort.
Marek's post-war descent into relative oblivion is very puzzling. This good quality double CD is an important move towards his musical resurrection.
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Marek's post-war descent into relative oblivion is very puzzling.