Tomás MARCO (b.1942)
Symphony no.2 Espacio Cerrado (1976) [15:16]
Symphony no.9 Thalassa (2009) [24:25]
Symphony no.8 Gaia's Dance (2008) [22:17]
Málaga Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Carranque, Málaga, Spain, 5-8 October 2010. DDD
NAXOS SPANISH CLASSICS 8.572684 [61:58]
Prolific Spanish composer Tomás Marco has a formidable musical and intellectual pedigree. He has published many books, including a Spanish-language history of 20th century music and the Spanish avant-garde. His teachers include Maderna, Boulez, Ligeti, Adorno and Stockhausen.
On that basis, the would-be listener could be forgiven for expecting to be thrust into the thick of avant-gardist ruminations in this, the first CD from Naxos to feature Marco's music. Certainly, there are no truly hummable tunes on offer here, least of all in the oceanically noisy Symphony no.9, Marco's latest. That said, the memorably punchy Symphony no.8 at least should appeal to anyone with a taste for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Its three movements are titled Gondwana, Laurasia and Pangea, giving an indication of the almost primeval earthiness of the pan-continental dance elements that constitute the fundamentals of this work.
Marco states, however, that the "aim of the work is not to portray any of these dances in a kind of recognisable entirety". Instead the Symphony resembles the first-born from a marriage between the opening of Prokofiev's Scythian Suite and Alexander Mossolov's Iron Foundry, particularly in the final section, which consists of an insistent series of machine-rhythmic ostinatos. From the Eighth Symphony it is a fairly easy step - all right, plunge - into the claustrophobic melodies, inscrutable harmonies and swelling rhythms of the other two. The early Second is in effect rather like a 'softcore' precursor to the Ninth.
The Málaga Philharmonic have been around for twenty years or so and formed some admirable associations with conductors and soloists throughout that period. Here the string ensemble seems occasionally hesitant, but in general there is a good sense of rehearsal and unity. The musicians dig deep to meet Marco's frequently quite strenuous technical requirements.
Apart from the ongoing obloquy of having his surname widely pronounced as if he were French, José Serebrier is still something of an under-appreciated conductor, despite his many successful recordings. He is also rather scandalously neglected as a composer, again despite the long-standing availability of several CDs of his music. For Naxos he has combined both jobs on at least four occasions to date, making recordings of his First, Second and Third Symphonies, the lattermost a second time for DVD indeed (8.559183, 8.559303, 8.559648, 2.110230). For the Málaga Philharmonic he does a sterling job at the front, guiding them through the candle-lit labyrinths of Marco's scores towards greater illumination.
Spain-originated recordings are not always immaculately engineered, and it must be said that sound quality here falls more into the "all right" category than anything higher. A look at the audio track waveforms reveals the 'sliced-off' peaks and troughs typical of pop-grade microphones or zealous codec application. The 'damage' is most noticeable in the loudest passages, but whilst it is undoubtedly an annoyance that should have been prevented, it does not detract overly from the main thing, which is Marco's stirring music. The English-Spanish booklet notes are by Marco himself, well written and informative. There is a photo of the whole Orchestra, but so small it turns every player into a black-and-white blob. Serebrier's biography is bigger, reflecting his long, illustrious career to date.
Those who find their appetites whetted by Marco's inventive, provocative Symphonies can turn to another recent release, this time on the Dynamic label: a valuable collection of Marco's surprisingly rare guitar music - altogether more accessible than the Symphonies too - splendidly performed by Marcello Fantoni (CDS 708).
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Inventive, provocative Symphonies.
see also review by Paul Corfield Godfrey