Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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JOSEPH MARX (1882-1964) The Three String Quartets Quartetto Chromatico (1936-37 rev 1948) Quartetto in Modo Classico (1940-41) Quartetto in Modo Antico (1937-38)   Lyric Quartet  world premiere recordings ASV CD DCA 1073 [79.22]

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With the phenomenal success of Korngold renewed from circa 1974 onwards and the less sustained revival of interest in Zemlinsky and Goldschmidt it was only a matter of time before attention turned to Joseph Marx.

Marx, a late-romantic Austrian, has made some peripheral headway. His Romantic Piano Concerto was taken up by Jorge Bolet and broadcast with the NYPO under Mehta! Hyperion have recorded the work and coupled it with Korngold. FY-Solstice have a 2 CD set of his chamber music and songs. Pavane have recorded his hour-long first violin sonata (and threaten to record his other works for violin and piano including the much more compact Frühlingsonate). Songs have appeared on Preiser and there is a complete recital on Etcetera. The Pavane, Etcetera and Hyperion have all been reviewed on this site.

The present disc, stylishly and comprehensive done by ASV, is another major step forward for Marx. There are absolutely no complaints. The skilful and tenderly exquisite performances generate fantasy and emotional warmth in equal measure. Witchery is seethingly alive in the scherzo of the Chromatico which is suggestive of Britten (Simple Symphony) and even Stravinsky's Firebird. The highly flavoured tonal complexity of these web-woven scores is not always easy but is well worth the effort. You can tap instantly into the rewarding strata by listening to the second movement of Chromatico. Marx is smilingly gracious in the finale of Chromatico - subtly weaving in a strand of the most touching nostalgia among that blazing confidence.

Modo Classico presents a simpler face with direct expression uncloaked by density of texture. The notes mention the music of Palestrina and di Lasso but for me Haydn and Mozart predominate. Traces of the medieval influence can be discerned in the adagio. Another undeniable voice (in the stunning adagio is that of Max Reger whose string quartet and piano quartet andantes are usually major emotional edifices. After a beamingly indulgent minuet teetering on (never falling over) the edge of schmaltz we come to a poco presto with some dazzling musical ideas and just a touch of the complexity which abounds in the Chromatico. The work was redone for string orchestra in 1948.

In Antico, once again, Haydn and Mozart are the influences. This is no desiccated pastiche. Marx (and the Lyric Quartet) uses Classical era ideas but presents them with a micron thick romantic overlay. A warm radiance rises off this work like a summer heat-haze. In the presto as in other of these quartet movements it is surprising how often I was reminded of Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra and the Corelli Fantasia and even of Vaughan Williams (the Tallis Fantasia came to mind several times during the first movement) and Howells in pastoral mode. This quartet was also arranged as a sinfonietta for strings and played by the Austrian Radio Orchestra under Max Schönherr. A private archive recording survives.

What to expect? Well, it depends on the work. In the Chromatico there is music of ardently lyric complexity - firmly tonal but pushing at the boundaries (Verklärte Nacht) but more often bursting with ebullience. Sections recall the three Korngold quartets, Warlock's string writing in his accompaniments to the songs and in The Curlew and the quartets of Zemlinsky. Nothing grates and all is emotionally consonant.

There is surely a great deal more to come in the Marx stakes. There are songs with orchestral accompaniment and I continue to press for recordings of the second piano concerto and the Respighian Castelli Romana (for piano and orchestra). There is the symphony Eine Herbstsinfonie and the orchestral Natur-Trilogie. I see from Brendan Carroll's well-informed notes that there are also three piano quartets; so, ASV, if you are restricting yourself to the chamber music you know in which direction your next Marx project lies.

For now do get this disc which I recommend with every confidence to anyone at all taken with Germanic late-romanticism and with the Viennese scene of the 1930s and 1940s.


Rob Barnett

See also review by Peter Grahame Woolf


Rob Barnett

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