CZESLAW MAREK 1891-1985 Orchestral Works Vols 1-2 Philharmonia/Gary Brain. Vol 1 Koch International 3-6439-2 (74:31) Suite for orchestra Op 25 (1926 rev 1943) Meditations Op 14 (1911-13) Sinfonia Op 28 (1928)  Vol 2 Koch International 3-6440-2 (66:52) Capriccio Op 15 (1915) Serenade for violin and orchestra (1916-18) (Ingolf Turban - violin) Sinfonietta (1916) rec 1995 and 1996.


Volume 1

Volume 2

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 As the world found less time for his music he became increasingly withdrawn and depressed.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 Marek’s 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 Szymanowski’s 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 and poise.

Marek’s single-movement ‘Sinfonia’ was an entry in the famous 1928 Schubert competition. This was the one which also attracted Atterberg’s sixth, Holbrooke’s 4th symphony, Brian’s Gothic, Schmidt’s 3rd symphony and Frank Merrick’s 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 Klami.

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 Wagner’s 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 Delius’s 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 Marek’s orchestral work remains to be recorded? Is there a virtuoso piano concerto waiting in the wings? Malcolm Macdonald’s 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.


Robert Barnett

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 on Jecklin.


Robert Barnett

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