Tomás MARCO (b.1942)
Symphony No. 2 Espacio cerrado (1985) [15.16]
Symphony No. 8 Gaia’s Dance (2008) [22.17]
Symphony No. 9 Thalassa (2009) [24.25]
Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Carranque, Malaga, 5-8 October 2010
NAXOS SPANISH CLASSICS 8.572684 [61.58]  

Tomás Marco was born in Madrid in 1942 and studied with Maderna, Ligeti, Boulez and Stockhausen among others. This might lead one to expect a dyed-in-the-wool avant-gardiste but in fact the music on this CD is more conventional. We are told in the booklet that Marco has won a series of international prizes, has worked extensively in Spanish education and “currently devotes his time exclusively to composition and writing about music”. He has also worked as a critic.
All three symphonies on this disc have subtitles - as, it seems, do all the composer’s symphonies - which explains something about the nature of the music. The second is subtitled Closed space, and the composer explains that he was “interested in exploring the creation of a single, compact, self-contained space.” What we actually get is a series of often quite interesting textural ideas juxtaposed and contrasted with each other. That said, there is no real sense of progress towards any particular goal here. The composer states that “the orchestration is massive” but this performance at least - there has apparently been a previous recording - does not convey any sense of an exceptionally large group.
The much later symphony Gaia’s Dance is a different matter altogether, a continuous series of three dance movements. The first explores the dance music of Africa and Latin America under the subtitle of the old proto-continent Gondwana, and sounds rather like a more modern version of some of Villa-Lobos’s more ‘ethnic’ scores. The second movement, named after the old northern proto-continent Laurasia, is a similar ‘take’ on the music of Europe and Asia, but the only readily identifiable elements in the music appear to be Indo-Arabic in flavour; India was not in fact part of the Laurasian continent, it drifted north at a later geological period - but never mind. The final movement embraces the dance music of the world as a whole - it is named after the primeval super-continent Pangaea - and the composer states that the synthesis includes “modern popular dance music”. Of this last element there is no detectable trace whatsoever apart from the use of two modern drum-kits. The style of the music owes much more to The Rite of Spring than any popular element. Still it is all quite good fun.
The latest symphony on this disc is based on Marco’s concept of the sea, which he states has always been an inspiration in his music. It consists of two movements. The first, Nun, is a depiction of the Egyptian god of water creating the oceans out of primordial chaos. The music is dark and suggestive more of the ocean deeps than their sunlit surface. The second movement is a depiction of Okéanos and brings us nearer to the light, with some quite impressionist reflections of Debussy evident on occasion. The whole symphony is linked by elements of mediaeval Spanish music by Martín Codáx, which the composer states in his note “runs through my work, in fragmented fashion, and at certain points becomes a block within which everything crystallizes, unchanging except for the timbre. The dialogue between the Codáx material and that of Nun and Okéanos respectively allows the work to unfold as if in a single, extended breath.”
Now if this is an example of Marco’s writing - and it seems to be an accurate translation of his original Spanish - one hopes that he is not spending too much time “writing about music”. If it means anything - and the prose is pretty murky - it would appear to suggest that the whole work is monothematic and unitary in style. It is neither. The Codáx material is readily identifiable some of the time. Its treatment suggests the methods of Britten in the church parables. The rest is, like the Second Symphony, a series of disparate textures - often of interest and enjoyable in themselves - which stand however resolutely in solitary isolation and apart from each other. The effect is perhaps best appreciated if one regards the whole score as a soundtrack for an unmade documentary film on ocean life. Indeed it would work very well as such.
The symphony as a whole is entitled Thalassa, named after the primeval spirit of the sea. There is another work of this title: the only symphony of Sir Arthur Somervell, written in 1912 and popular at one time for its slow movement written in memory of Scott. There is a broadcast performance under Adrian Leaper which can be heard on the internet; but this is a symphony which surely stands in need of a commercial recording - one has just been issued on the Cameo Classics label and a review is impending.
Over the years Naxos and Marco Polo have put us greatly in their debt with their series of recordings of music of the Iberian peninsula in the post-Falla era. One thinks with especial gratitude of their recordings of the marvellous works of Joly Braga Santos. Unfortunately this current issue is not one of the essential issues in that series; nor is there anything very obviously Spanish about any of the music. There is quite a lot of the music of Tomás Marco available on disc nowadays, but it all seems to be in very much the same style.
The orchestral performances appear - so far as one can judge in the absence of a score - to be excellent and resourceful, rising successfully to all the many challenges presented by the composer. The marvellous and always-responsive Serebrier brings understanding and a sense of brilliance to the scoring. It’s just that I would have preferred him to have been conducting Serebrier. The recording is excellent, clear and precise, and one can hear everything the composer intends even if the harp is perhaps a fraction too close to be realistic.  

Paul Corfield Godfrey 

Effective and sometimes good fun. The marvellous and always-responsive Serebrier brings understanding and a sense of brilliance.