Fanfare Magazine, issue 2005/28, No. 6 (July/August 2005)
MARX Alt-Wiener Seranaden. Partita in modo antico. Sinfonia in modo classico
Steven Sloane, cond; Bochum SO
ASV CD DCA 1158 (76:45)
This is the fourth release in ASV's continuing series of the music of Joseph Marx (1882-1964). I've reviewed two of the previous three: the composer's Nature Trilogy (ASV CD DCA 1137, in Fanfare 27:1) and his Orchestral Songs (ASV CD DCA 1164, Fanfare 28:3). Each of these has revealed a different facet of the composer, and for this, producer Miguel Kertsman and conductor Steven Sloane are probably the people who deserve the credit.
With this latest album, they've done it again. All three works on this CD date from WW II and deliberately reflect back on a classical tradition that was being eroded as much by the nightmarish values of the Thousand-Year Reich as it was by dodecaphonic academicism. The Alt-Wiener Serenaden, premiered in 1942, deliberately avoids a single stylistic timeframe in an effort to convey a sense of Austrian folk music across the recent centuries. There's the Baroque, through its busy counterpoint and the employment in several movements of a harpsichord, and the Classical period, paid homage in a theme from Haydn's "Drumroll" Symphony that appears during the third movement: a mixed minuet-waltz that very cleverly spans two centuries in its stylistic treatment of the same thematic material. In those moments that fast-forward to the Romantic period, most notably in the first and final movements, the piece points to Max Reger at his most likeable (and he could be very likeable, when he chose).
The Partita in modo antico for string orchestra (an arrangement of a 1937/1938 string quartet of similar designation, and available on ASV CD DCA 1073) is an extraordinary work for Marx. As the excellent liner notes of Berkant Haydin and Martin Rucker put it, the Partita should be perceived as a tribute to such masters of vocal polyphony as Palestrina and di Lasso. There is a chasteness about its linear lines (though these strikingly erupt on a few occasions into sonorous, chordal harmonies), treatment of the divided strings, and non-dissonant but modal/chromatic movement that recalls similar influences from Christian sacred music of the later European Renaissance on both English and American composers earlier in the 20th century. The Phrygian slow movement in particular has the potential of joining a select few notables that include Barber and Vaughan Williams as meditative favorites, if classical music stations give it more than a cursory occasional hearing.
The third piece on this recording, Sinfonia in modo classico, is also a string orchestra arrangement made from a string quartet (and available in its original form on ASV CD DCA 1073). Composed in 1941, issued in its new format in 1944, the work is another smilingly affectionate glance back through two centuries of Austrian classical music. Haydin and Rucker find the style closer to the late Romantic than that employed in the Alt-Wiener Serenaden, but there's more of a concentration on Haydn and the late 18th century in the first movement. For the rest, the Romantic vocabulary is more diatonically centered than was common in Marx's youth, and it is applied in clean, spare textures, often of two parts. Once again, the writing is remarkable throughout for its cantabile beauty. When moments of modern harmony do occur-or full movements, as in the presto poco finale-they stand out more vigorously for contrast with the rest, as Marx no doubt intended them to: reminders not merely of a different time, but of a ruminative vantage point crossing cultures with respect and affection.
It would be all too easy to write off the impulse behind all three compositions as sentimental or simple audience pleasing (though there is nothing wrong with pleasing an audience). Yet, there is a subtlety of utterance and a complexity of technique that indicate just how seriously and thoroughly considered all three works in fact are. In a very real way, these three pieces are as much a summing up of historical awareness and personal attachment to living musical traditions as Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin, though the German Romantic tradition is an antipode to the French Classical one.
In reviewing the Nature Trilogy, I remarked of Sloane and his Bochum musicians that "the performances are clear, cool, and well-defined, evincing a fine control of dynamics and a natural sense of tempo." All of this applies to the series' latest release. I would only add that the string section of the orchestra, which has the last two works to itself, is particularly fine in blending and control of tone. Sloane has a gift for phrasing that makes me wish to hear far more of him in the future.
With good engineering and a generous side length, this is definitely worth the purchase.Barry Brenesal
http://www.joseph-marx.org/ © 2001-2005 Berkant Haydin