Myriam MARBÉ (1931-1997)
Ritual für den Durst der Erde (1968) [10:12]
Serenata - Eine kleine Sonnenmusik (1974) [10:04]
Trommelbass (1985) [11:44]
Requiem: Fra Angeloco - Marc Chagall – Voroneţ (1990) [36:02]
Corul Madrigal/Marin Constantin (Ritual)
Brasov Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Ilarion Ionescu-Galati (Serenata)
Ensemble ‘Romantica’ (Trommelbass)
Barbara Werner (mezzo), Heidelberg Theater Choir, Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra/Jan Schweiger (Requiem)
rec. 1984-1990, Radio România; 2011, Deutschlandradio (Requiem)

Myriam Marbé hailed from Bucharest and studied composition at the city’s University of Music, where she taught from 1954 to 1988. Her staunch refusal to join the Communist Party no doubt hampered her promotion. At times her travel was restricted but she was permitted to attend the Darmstadt summer classes between 1968 and 1972. She picked up many awards and prizes along the way, including the Romanian Academy Award (1977) and many international distinctions, such as the Bernier Award (Paris) and GEDOK (Mannheim). She was regarded as one of the foremost Romanian composers of her day.

Ritual für den Durst der Erde is the earliest of the pieces here, dating from 1968. It was helpful watching a performance of this on Youtube, prior to putting pen to paper. It’s scored for 7 (or 14) solo voices and a small chorus which disperses itself amongst the audience. The work is the product of a time of crisis in musical composition, when composers were seeking to establish a new order after serialism. Marbé’s solution was to be bold and courageous, replacing musical sounds with words. The participants have a voluntary role, to create music that gives them a sense of solidarity, whilst establishing their own individuality. What results is a ‘happening’, a fine example of aleatoric music where elements of the composition are left to chance, to be determined by the performers on the night. The work was championed in its early days by the famous chamber chorus Madrigal and its director Marin Constantin, who took it on tour, recorded it for West German Radio in 1971, and went on to give more than one hundred performances. Marbé chose words from Romanian rain rituals: "Open up the heavens, let water flow and surge!". The booklet provides the Romanian text, but with German translation only. It’s a gripping work, visceral and dramatic. The opening ‘wails’ reminded me of Penderecki’s Magnificat.

You would expect a work with a title like Serenata - Eine kleine Sonnenmusik to be a homage to Mozart – especially with the ‘Magic Flute’ quotation at the end played on the celesta; and so it is. In contrast to the other three works this one, composed in 1974, exudes joy and merriment. Colourfully scored, it makes for a pleasing listen. Marbé achieves some stunning orchestral timbres, with strings, woodwind and percussion conjuring magical effects. Even tubular bells are thrown in at the end for good measure. For me it’s a stroll in the forest, with shafts of light penetrating the canopy. Birds twitter in the treetops; like her compatriot Anatol Vieru she’s keen to incorporate birdsong into her scores. At one point the composer purloins a fragment of a folk dance from Béla Bartók’s collection of folk music from the Bihor region of Transylvania. This 1984 performance has previously been available on an Electrecord LP (ST-ECE 02105). Ionescu-Galati and the Brasov Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra certainly give it a run for its money with some stylish and characterful playing.

In 1985 Ştefan Gheorghiu, of the Ensemble ‘Romantica’, approached Marbé for a work for string trio. The result was Trommelbass, a piece for trio and drum, a musical parable dealing with aggressive power. The sustained ostinato pattern which persists throughout was inspired by the composer’s listening to a Bach oratorio. This relentless bass is obsessive, and as the music progresses the music above tries to make its presence felt. Bird song and cricket chirping invade the landscape. Towards the end the drum enters, imperceptibly at first, but gradually becoming more forceful. Its menacing demeanour in no way deters the birds, who carry on regardless. Marbé’s own description is very telling: "The threat from the drum has no force; it can’t take root, so its rhythm is ultimately transformed into a loving heartbeat." Surely the work paints a picture of the country the composer inhabited, and how her art transcended the many hardships inflicted by the harsh regime in place at the time. The performance here, given by Ensemble ‘Romantica’, is dated 1986 and, although not stated, I presume was the premiere. Well-recorded, the players achieve some ravishing effects.

At thirty-six minutes, the 1990 Requiem for mezzo-soprano, choir and orchestra is the most substantial opus here. Around the time of its composition there was a growing interest in female composers, and the singer Roswitha Sperber commissioned the work for her festival "Women composers past and present". The theme of the festival was "Blue, the colour of distance" and Marbé entitled the Requiem Fra Angeloco - Marc Chagall – Voroneţ. She saw in the paintings of the two artists and in the frescoes of the Romanian monastery Voroneţ the colour blue as representing limitlessness and distance, as well as triumph and victory. The work is cast in three linked movements, the two choral outer ones framing a central movement for solo voice. The central episode is titled Lacrimosa and is sparsely drafted. Barbara Verner’s plaintive tone suits the part to perfection, and her reading is both stylized and cleanly enunciated. She brings an improvisatory quality to the narrative, giving the feel of music being created on the wing. Jan Schweiger is superb in the way he weaves the bare orchestral textures around the voice. The final movement is heralded by an unaccompanied chorus – the Byzantine Romanian hymn of Resurrection - Veseliți vă (‘be joyful’). Later Marbé employs words from the Latin Requiem. After a triumphant build up, the work ends quietly. The choir throughout are well-rehearsed and sing with commitment and fervour; their ensemble is notable for its flawless precision. The text, a mixture of Romanian and Latin is included with German translation.

The Requiem is a German Radio recording, and the other three are courtesy of Radio România. All are warmly recorded and balance between orchestral forces, choir and soloist, in each case, has been expertly handled. I hope that next year, the twentieth anniversary of the composer’s death, enterprising labels, such as Troubadisc, will see it as an opportunity to make available more of this inspiring and courageous composer’s outstanding music.
Stephen Greenbank

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