Czeslaw Marek was a name new to me until the issue, a couple of years ago,
of these two CDs.
He was born in Przemysl (a town - now in Poland - in the then Austro-Hungarian
empire) in 1891. A patron paid for Marek to study in Vienna with Leschetitsky,
Guido Adler and Karl Weigl (about time someone recorded his violin concerto
and symphonies). He moved to Strasbourg and studied with Pfitzner. War forced
an eventual move to Switzerland where he took up citizenship. His music is
late-romantic with, as he said, a classicist orientation! He was very active
as concert pianist. As the world found less time for his music he became
increasingly withdrawn and depressed. His MSS are in the central library
in Zurich which runs the Marek Foundation promoting Mareks own music
(hence these CDs) and that of Swiss composers born pre-1892.
The five-movement Suite for Orchestra has a Fauré-like gentility
and a sad beauty. Amongst its five movements I expected to find a pavane
alongside the Prelude - Sarabande - Burla - Gigue - Presto. The
textures are more airy and less complex than those of Schmidt, Schoeck or
Marx. The Burla third movement has distinctly icy Russian accents.
It is played here with a stamping vividness as are the last two movements.
The final Presto might have escaped from the glisteningly ecstatic
pages of Szymanowskis dreadfully under-rated ballet Harnasie. Here
the atmosphere is enhanced with some Rimskian panache.
Meditations, complete with French movement titles, continues the French
influence but here there are even stronger echoes of the lyrical Tchaikovsky
(Nutcracker and Souvenirs de Florence) and even of Glazunov with a soupçon
of Schoeck and momentary recollections of Sibelius Valse Triste.
If the sequence ends somewhat inconclusively the music is of great beauty
Mareks single-movement Sinfonia was an entry in
the famous 1928 Schubert competition. This was the one which also attracted
Atterbergs sixth, Holbrookes 4th symphony, Brians
Gothic, Schmidts 3rd symphony and Frank Merricks symphony.
It opens in a dark haze beloved of Bax or Miaskovsky - almost Franckian -
and eventually sinks back into the same mystery. From this mystery emerges
a bell-tolling climax. Other episodes include Hungarian-sounding dance elements
and heady work for the French horns. None of it is very Schubertian but then
the competition did not specify pastiche. The notes indicate that the Marek
work jostled with the Brian, Atterberg and Schmidt in the Vienna international
finals. The work has a strong profile and is very distinctive combining the
wildnesses and some of the delicacy of Szymanowski, Florent Schmitt and Uuno
Volume 2 opens with the 10-minute Capriccio - a dance fantasy.
This time the Germanic atmosphere is stronger and I thought several times
of Siegfried Wagners delightfully varied violin concerto (CPO). There
is a gentle Brucknerian lilt to this music lightened by impressionistic textures
and Polish/Russian gestures.
The Serenade for violin and orchestra is Delian in its accents and
this should not be surprising given that Deliuss many successful
performances before the Great War were in Germany under the baton of such
conductors as Hans Hayms. There are echoes here of the Delius suite and concerto
for violin and orchestra. Other comparative references include the Schoeck
violin concerto (1907) although the Marek work has little in the way of Brahmsian
influence. Although the four movements do have their moments of intensity
and high drama, overall, the work is well named as a serenade, perhaps capturing
some of the same spirit as the Bruch work of the same name and specification.
The music is charming, reflective, brisk and shapely, all ably articulated
by soloist Ingolf Turban and his equal partners.
The three-movement Sinfonietta is plush and romantic. In fact this
is the most dense, old-fashioned and least impressionistic of the works featured
in the two volumes. Overtones of Richard Strauss, Reger, Pfitzner and
occasionally Korngold are to be heard in the first movement. I found it the
least convincing of the works here though certainly with some magical moments
in the second and last movements.
I wonder what else of Mareks orchestral work remains to be recorded?
Is there a virtuoso piano concerto waiting in the wings? Malcolm
Macdonalds notes (which would have benefited from some proof-reading
to eliminate typos) for both discs are always illuminating and thankfully
light-handed on technical analysis and heavy on context. This approach is
especially valuable with a composer as obscure as Marek.
I recommend these two discs strongly with a definite leaning towards volume
1 if you cannot go for both. They have been well received everywhere. If
you were wondering if they were worth getting I hope I have encouraged you.
Anyone with a taste for fine melodious impressionistic music with touches
of both the French and central European pastoral streams should get these
discs before they succumb to deletion.
Notes: 1. Does anyone have a complete list of the thirty works submitted
for the final prize in the 1927 International Schubert competition? I would
like to see this. There were three works nominated from each of the ten world
zones. I would like to see the complete list but am particularly intrigued
by the works which emerged from the USA.
2. The Marek Foundation funded the issue of various Schoeck archive tapes