Joseph MARX (1882-1964) Lieder und Gesänge (1908-12) excerpts Italienisches Liederbuch (1912) excerpts Verklärtes Jahr (1930-32)
Angela Maria Blasi (soprano)
Stella Doufexis (mezzo-soprano)
Bochum Symphony Orchestra/Steven Sloane
rec. 2003, Stadthalle, Wupperthal, Germany
Texts and translations included NAXOS 8.573833 [56.35]
The music of Joseph Marx has been undergoing something of a renaissance recently, with new recordings emerging of his major orchestral works and garnering some ecstatic reviews from commentators. Naxos have now joined the fray with the reissue of three CDs of Marx’s music originally published back in 2004-5 as part of an ongoing series on ASV with the Bochum Symphony Orchestra conducted by their long-standing conductor Steven Sloane. This series was terminated with the demise of the ASV label in 2007, before its investigation of the composer reached his magnum opus the 1922 Herbstsymphonie, which only achieved its first commercial recording on CPO this year, and was welcomed in April by Rob Barnett in a review for this site as “one of the most extravagant of works”.
That extravagance is less in evidence on this disc, which consists mainly of the composer’s orchestrations of his own songs, originally written in the years before the First World War for voice and piano accompaniment. The orchestral style is very much of the late-romantic period, with washes of sound that recall Marx’s contemporaries such as Korngold, Braunfels or Schreker, while eschewing the more radical developments that were taking place in Germany at the time. The booklet note by Berkant Haydin and Martin Rucker freely acknowledges that these orchestral arrangements were made by the composer either in response to requests from individual performers, or with a view to increasing the opportunities for performance – in other words, that none of the songs were originally conceived in orchestral terms. There are seventeen such arrangements here out of a total which the booklet refers to as “around twenty”, drawn from four published volumes. They are not presented either in the order of their original composition nor by reference to their texts; rather the first eleven tracks are sung by the soprano Angela Maria Blasi and the next six by mezzo Stella Doufexis, an arrangement which fails to provide any contrast between the individual items. It is perhaps preferable to approach this disc in a more piecemeal fashion, especially since the mood of many of the songs are rather brief with only one exceeding three minutes in duration.
But the final five tracks are something rather different: a complete song cycle written much later in the composer’s career, which reflects his major works in its concern with the passing of the seasons and the beauties of the natural world. The texts are drawn from various sources, but the cycle culminates in a six-minute setting of a rather beautiful poem by the composer himself entitled In the Campagna, an enthralled depiction of the Italian landscape. Naxos earns our gratitude, not only for providing full texts and translations on their website but also in the substantial twenty-page booklet; I note that John Quinn in his review for this site of the other ASV reissues in this series also commented favourably on the fact that Berkant Haydin and Martin Rucker’s notes are not simply reprinted from one issue to the next.
Indeed Verklärtes Jahr deserves to be singled out as one of the major works of Marx’s maturity, an important addition to such works as the Nature Trilogy and the Herbstsymphonie; I find it amazing, not only that it does not appear to have been recorded before, but that since the original issue of this disc in 2004 it has not been taken up since by other performers. The orchestration is not on a large scale, and the music itself would surely be welcomed by audiences. One can perhaps imagine it more luxuriantly sung by other voices (individual songs by Marx during his lifetime and afterwards have been recorded by many luminaries), but Stella Doufexis has a fine feeling for the words and delivers her lines with a sense of feeling that reflects the music. In the earlier songs she also impresses, but Angela Maria Blasi has a rather thinner and edgier tone which could profitably have had more romantic warmth.
When this disc was originally released back in 2004, some critics were decidedly lukewarm; one gets the impression that they were discouraged by the rather miniature effect of the opening tracks and did not allow themselves to become immersed in the much more substantial impression produced by Verklärtes Jahr. Never mind, this valuable Naxos reissue now gives listeners the opportunity to make the acquaintance of a major discovery; and hopefully new performances will bring the work to the attention of concert audiences also.
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