Czeslaw MAREK (1891-1985) Songs and Choral Music
Six Lieder Op.1 (1911-13) [13:19]
Five Lenau Lieder Op.17 (1915-17) [12:12]
Two Lieder Op.12 (1914) [7:11]
Rural Scenes - seven songs for high voice and orchestra Op.30 (1929) [14:55]
Village Songs - seven songs for high voice and orchestra Op. 34 (1934) [16:32]
Annemarie, Fox-Trot Op.38 (1937) [6:52]
Rural Scenes - seven songs for high voice and orchestra Op.30 (1929) [20:25]
Village Songs - seven songs for high voice and orchestra Op. 34 (1934) [18:41]
Polish Hymn (1975) [1:51]
Death Melody Op.23 (1924) [7:19]
Greeting Op.6 No.2 (1912) [2:42]
The Alps Op.5 (1912) [6:59]
CD 1: Elzbieta Szmytka (soprano); Jean Rigby (mezzo); William Dazeley (baritone); Krysztof Smietana (violin); Iain Burnside (piano)
CD 2: Elzbieta Szmytka (soprano); Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Gary Brain
rec. May 1997, Abbey Road, London (CD2), 1998, St. George’s Chapel, Bristol (CD2)
GUILD GMCD 7366/67 [71:39 + 59:04]
Guild has faced a dilemma when it comes to their repackaging of ex-Koch Swann recordings devoted to Czeslaw Marek. Their answer has been to consolidate this material into four twofers, dedicated to the piano music, chamber and more piano music, orchestral music and – as here – the songs and choral music. The sessions were made towards the end of the 1990s, so it’s well and good that it’s made available in this fashion, albeit there are certain collateral considerations to ponder.
Foremost in this volume is the matter of duplication. As the head-note indicates, there are two especially lovely cycles in this twofer – Rural Scenes, Op.30 and Village Songs, Op.34 – but they are heard twice. On the first disc we hear Elzbieta Szmytka sing them with the accompaniment of Iain Burnside, and on the second she is accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Gary Brain. This, then, is already stretching toward specialist territory as I doubt many will particularly wish to hear both the piano and the orchestral versions, no matter that they do reflect a different aesthetic and are independently very attractive.
However, if one leaves this issue to the potential purchaser, one can certainly suggest why you should want to listen to Marek’s music. Even as early as the Op.1 Songs we can hear attractive things in both the vocal and piano lines, the latter indeed steering toward the sound world of his compatriot Szymanowski in the very first setting. These 1911-13 settings are playful, confident but stylistically aware and are parcelled out to Jean Rigby and William Dazeley who both due them justice. The Op.17 songs reflect similar qualities, though the mood deepens. There’s a wistful, melancholy, Schubertian air alongside the geniality of some of the settings, the mood lightening in true narrative fashion as it progresses. For the fourth song Marek introduces a violin part, finely played by Krysztof Smietana.
The Rural Scenes consist of seven settings and were composed in 1929. They are fresh, outgoing and extremely winning songs. The piano accompanied versions are obviously the more compact, as the orchestral arrangements are necessarily more languorous. Several names come to mind, if one wants to summon up their ethos. Other critics have pointed to Canteloube, whose influence seems to permeate the first setting, Chmiel - especially noticeable in the orchestral version - though it seems doubtful that Marek could have known Chants d’Auvergne, which was completed at around the same time. Madeleine Grey’s recording didn’t emerge until 1930. But there is also, perhaps more pertinently, the dual influence of Bartók and Janác(ek. The ethnographic work of both seems clear, and the third setting sounds distinctly like one of Janác(ek’s lighter Moravian folk settings, the fifth like one of Bartók’s Hungarian or Slovak ones. The Village Songs date from 1934, and are a touch more suave, and ‘classical’. Harmonically more sophisticated, they’re correspondingly a touch less earthy, but still delightful and well worth getting to know.
The other works fall to the Chorus. There’s a most beautiful late, 1975 Polish Hymn, composed with moving simplicity and directness. Death Melody is an impressively constructed early work. The choral works in general show some influence of Richard Strauss and perhaps a touch of late Brahms. There’s one hybrid song that shows Marek’s cabaret side. This is the Annemarie, Fox-Trot, which suffers from a dual problem: it’s not as good as similar works by Ježek or Schulhoff, and it also can’t decide if it’s a song or a piano solo. So it decides to be both.
There are no texts or translations of the songs but if you go to Guild’s website you can find the original Polish texts with English and German translations. Guild’s notes are good ones by Jürgen Schaarwächter. Try to make Marek’s acquaintance if you enjoy his late-Romantic-cum-folkloric ethos. These excellent performances will help no end.
Late-Romantic-cum-folkloric music in excellent performances.