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Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Eine Herbstsymphonie (1922) [67:00]
Grazer Philharmoniker/Johannes Wildner
rec. 2018, Oper Graz, Austria
CPO 555 262-2 [67:00]

Marx’s mighty Herbstsymphonie has long been imagined, desired, mulled over and aspired to as a dream. CPO have now allowed the world to hear it. This is the work’s first commercial recording and is without cuts.

There are giddier symphonic constructs but at 67 minutes Marx’s Eine Herbstsymphonie is one of the most extravagant of works in duration and instrumentation. The composer’s invention is lush and leans towards impressionism: think Debussy and La Mer clasped in communion with Korngold’s Symphony. The music might even remind you of Scriabin or early Miaskovsky or Cuclin, or of Bax in his Spring Fire or Nympholept. Surging, sobbing and sighing waves and veils of sound interleave in one massively-breathed ecstasy.

You might be forgiven for thinking on occasion during the first movement (Ein Herbstgesang) that you have been caught up in a vortex of Klimt-like Hollywood stardust: perhaps Waxman and Friedhofer enmeshed in rhapsodic melt-down. There are no wintry or Nordic gales to dispel the sultriness that carries over from the shortest movement (the first) to the Tanz der Mittagsgeister. I mentioned La Mer earlier as a comparator but here the lulling kinship is with La Valse. Next comes the sun-drenched and long-sustained high noon that is Herbstgedanken. This is about the same duration as the Tanz.

The Tanz der Mittagsgeister and Herbstgedanken together take about the same time as the finale, Ein Herbstpoem. This is a 26-minute, lavishly indulgent summation; less farewell and more of a joyous welcoming embrace than a valediction. Here, the composer looks back to the activity of the first movement but redoubles the work’s brassy confidence and vitality. Marx is not going to reject his natural inclinations towards lambency and sultry suggestion; far from it - try the trumpet at 6:26 and 8:45. The trumpet is a recurring frontline presence in this movement. As in the first movement, the music also suggests oceanic surge, excitement and victory. Add to this a leisurely-swung dance element and the return of what we later came to associate with silver-screen lush.

Eine Herbstsymphonie was premiered in Grambach on 5 February 1922 when the Vienna Philharmonic was conducted by Felix Weingartner. Its premiere in Graz followed with Clemens Kraus at the wheel on 28 September 1922. Its complexity and extremes no doubt account for it having been left in cold-store after 1927 until Marx’s death in 1964. This despite Marx introducing optional cuts in the second and fourth movements which I think was the form in which it was given by Vladimir Jurowski at the Royal Festival Hall in 2017 and much earlier by the American Symphony conducted by Leon Botstein (download). The revival of the full version came in 2005 from Graz with the conductor Michel Swierczewski. In the 1940s the composer rethought the finale of the Symphony as a freestanding work under the title of Feste im Herbst. This last was played by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Simone Young in Manchester in 2017 and before that was recorded by CPO in 2007 with the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, again under Wildner (review).

The disc is very properly and enjoyably documented by lifelong Marx advocates Berkant Haydin and Peter Rastl, both of the Joseph Marx Gesellschaft.

This recording was made over four days so is no study-fatigued dull run-through. Rather than seeming stilted, the music basks at length in its own sunshine. It’s often more of summer and less of the chilly autumn which the title could imply. Do not look to this work as an exemplar of spring vigour. On the other hand, its super-glowing autumnal radiance never misses a glorious beat.

Rob Barnett



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