Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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JOSEPH MARX (1882-1964) Romantic Piano Concerto in E major (1919) [36.39] ERICH KORNGOLD (1897-1957) Piano Concerto in C sharp for the left hand (1922) [27.35] Marc-André Hamelin (piano) BBC Scottish SO/Osmo Vänskä rec 19/20 June 1997 HYPERION CDA66990 [64:39]




The Marx Romantic Concerto delivers what its title promises. The  upward surging exuberance of the open pages are a prelude to a scintillatingly confident work in which decorative virtuosity and romantic feeling meet. The atmosphere is Viennese rather than Russian. The harmonies are tart and these reminded me of the orchestral works of Franz Schmidt. The lebhaft first movement is the longest of the three at almost a quarter of an hour and is packed with Straussian incident and Lisztian bravura from the piano. The work lacks the distinctive creamy tunes you find in Korngold whose name is also suggested by hearing this concerto. Equally Marx’s melodic invention is without the over-the-top sentimentality that occasionally invades Korngold’s luscious tunes. The first movement has the isolated patch of piano noodling but, for the most part, variety, drive and strong thematic invention hold the concerto together well and the closing moments of the lebhaft are lambently wonderful. The central andante is suitably poetic with richly-imbued passion and reminded me of Saint-Saens’ piano concerto slow movements. Ardent joie-de-vivre return for the final Allegro molto. This is interrupted by a Brahmsian episode at 1:32 and even an oriental dance by a capering bassoon at 4.13. As the booklet note by Brendan Carroll points out the constantly shifting material also reminds the listener of Delius. The heroically piercing strings yearn dreamily to great effect and if the ending seems perfunctory so much before is memorable we leave the work with only a momentary sense of disappointment. The notes suggest that it had disappeared from the repertoire by the mid-1930s. This may well be true however as late as the 1980s Zubin Mehta conducted the NYPO in a performance which exists on tape. The pianist was the temperamental but brilliant Jorge Bolet.

Marx’s Castelli Romani is probably a better work than the Romantic Concerto if an old tape I have is anything to go by. I rather hope that Hyperion will record the work. It deserves exposure and many will find it a rewarding discovery. I am still trying to track down tapes of the orchestral Natur-trilogie and the Marx Herbstsymphonie, both of which are likely to be strong works of great colour and distinction. I am also anxious to hear Marx’s three string quartets and three piano quartets.

The Korngold work was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein (who else!). It has fine and archetypically Korngoldian melodies (e.g. Track 5 - 0.42) complete with lush string writing which the Scots despatch with creamy style. The work is much more varied than the Marx and Korngold’s effervescent imagination is everywhere in evidence in a cornucopia of poetry and display. Track 7 represents Korngold in the doldrums of inspiration although even then there are flashes of novelty. Hamelin’s glittering diamond runs and trills are part of the glorious bouquet of the Korngold work. It is the ‘presentation of the rose’ from Strauss’s Rosenkavalier that comes through strongly in track 8. A warlike atmosphere pervades track 12 and this gives place in the following (and final) track to a determined and affirmative vehemence.

No apologies for harping on about Marx at the expense of Korngold. EWK has been given great and deserved attention over the last 15 years. Marx has not. He is a singular figure and terribly neglected despite a crop of 150 songs from the early years of the century and a distinctive orchestral heritage from the 1920s. We must hear more of his music.

The booklet notes are in English (7pp), French and German.

This is the eighteenth in Hyperion’s ‘The Romantic Piano Concerto’ series and is most sensitively and powerfully accomplished by Hamelin (whose Medtner sonata cycle is one of the jewels of the Hyperion - or any - catalogue), Vänskä and the BBC Scottish. The sound is all you might expect: natural and with plenty of depth and power. These are works and performances to which you will want to return.


Rob Barnett

See also Ian Lace's review


Rob Barnett

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