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4/5 stars

Two Unabashedly Romantic Piano Concertos

This is the fifth CD among recent recordings of music by Joseph Marx (1882-1964), due largely to the illimitable enthusiasm for his music by Berkant Haydin who spearheaded all but one of these recordings and who maintains a very helpful website devoted to the composer,, and who also wrote the booklet notes for this issue. The recording of the Second Concerto, called 'Castelli Romani,' is a world première. The First Concerto, the so-called 'Romantic,' has previously been recorded gorgeously by Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion.

The Romantic Piano Concerto (1919-20) is a big, ultraromantic three-movement work lasting about forty minutes. The orchestral accompaniment, here and in the Castelli Romani, is handled beautifully by the Bochum Symphony Orchestra under conductor Stephen Sloane. They are the same group who so successfully recorded three of the earlier issues in the ASV series. Clearly they have Marx's orchestral style in the blood. For me the absolute highlight of the series so far is the gorgeous 'Naturtrilogie,' which I have also reviewed here. As for this concerto, it is in the tradition of those high romantic concertos we all know and love - Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff etc. Marx has his own voice -- there are always elements of impressionism mixed into his admittedly conservative style -- but the overall effect is rather the same as those mentioned: gorgeous melodies, rich harmonies, lush orchestration, virtuosic piano passage work. If the melodic invention is not quite on the highest level, there is still very much here to enjoy.

The Second Concerto is rather a different animal. Written in 1931 and premièred by Walter Gieseking with an orchestra under Karl Böhm, it is Marx's attempt to limn in music his impressions of three sites of a well-loved trip to Italy the composer had made. The first movement, 'Villa Hadriana,' evokes by use of medieval open fifths and fourths and modal scales the ancient world of Hadrian's villa. The second movement, 'Tusculum,' is a pastorale recalling an ancient village of that name. 'Frascati,' for me the most compelling of the three movements, uses Respighian orchestration (including one passage that sounds almost cribbed from 'Pines of Rome,' not inappropriate one must admit) and Italian folksong. The orchestration in this concerto is leaner than in the cholesterol-rich first concerto and this gives a musical impression of ancient times and places.

David Lively is an American pianist who, of course, learned these concerti for this recording. One never has the sense that he is just playing the notes; he seems both committed to and in love with these pieces. Neither of the concertos has entered the repertory of touring virtuosi. One hopes that this recording, plus that of Hamelin, will revive some interest in this creditable concertos.

Next, we are told, will be a recording of what some have called Marx's masterpiece, the 'Herbstsymphonie' ('Autumn Symphony'), a gargantuan work whose praises have been sung by a number of musicians familiar with the score. I, for one, can hardly wait.

Scott Morrison

July 8, 2005

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