Marx: Eine Frühlingsmusik, Idylle, Feste Im Herbst / Wildner, Vienna Radio So

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MARX Nature Trilogy: Spring Music; Idylle. Feasts in Autumn Johannes Wildner, cond; Vienna RSO cpo 777 320 (63:07)

“Imagine an Austrian composer with Bax’s mystical sensitivity to nature, Schrecker’s gift for orchestration, and Magnard’s subtle sense of architecture. Throw in a strong enthusiasm for Debussy and a distinctive melodic profile, and you have Joseph Marx (1882–1964).” I started a review of Marx’s orchestral music several years ago in this fashion, and I think it still serves to indicate the kind of music he wrote. Far from being the dried-up pedant portrayed by contemporary serialists, Marx was a strikingly imaginative composer who combined great lyrical gifts with an ability to manipulate large orchestral structures creatively.

A recording of his Nature Trilogy was released in 2003, with Steven Sloane leading the Bochum SO (ASV 1137). I was frankly wowed in Fanfare 27:1 by both the music and its performance, and added the disc to my Want List that year. That recording is still available, despite the subsequent sale of ASV and discontinuation of new releases. Wildner is up against this steep competition, and for several reasons, I don’t think cpo’s new recording quite measures up—though it has its ace in the hole.

First, there’s the orchestra. The Vienna RSO performs competently, but lacks “face” in this difficult music that demands a vivid orchestral palette of many shades. On ASV, the Bochum SO strings sound a bit anemic, but the brass and especially the winds have all the wealth of color one could wish. A good comparative moment occurs roughly five minutes into the “Idylle” and continues for half a minute, where Marx plays different winds off one another to invoke a Debussy-like forest pastorale. The effect is delicately arresting with the Bochum musicians, but easily passed by without notice by the Vienna players.

The conductors adopt similar tempos and proceed convincingly, but Sloane is more willing to pause as required rather than push ahead. I also find him more sensitive to matters of phrasing and dynamic levels in the score. There’s a point at roughly 8:40 in his recording of “Idylle,” where the solo trumpet plays softly over shimmering strings, for instance. Sloane catches this, softening magically, while Wildner doesn’t bother. This isn’t to say that Wildner is callous about this music. He conducts it convincingly, with plenty of energy and an obvious sense of commitment. Sloane simply finds more in these works, and does the job better.

The sound also plays its part. ASV’s is better defined, the sustained winds, pulsating strings, and horns that lead off “Spring Music” each being clear while contributing to the overall effect. The engineering on the cpo disc is slightly recessed, each strand of orchestration just a bit harder to pick out.

Then there’s the matter of completion. Sloane offers the three sections of the Nature Trilogy : “Symphonic Night Music,” “Idylle,” and “Spring Music,” The new release includes only the last two. Marx stated that he conceived of them as a single, coherent three-movement piece. Wildner instead removes the first movement, puts the concluding movement, “Spring Music,” first, and places the final movement of another work in third (final) place on the disc. This effectively wreaks havoc with Marx’s architectural intentions, though it could pragmatically be argued that each of these pieces stands well enough on its own, and any new Marx is better than none.

On the positive side, this is also the premiere recording of Feste im Herbst (“Feasts in Autumn”), a reorchestration by the composer of the fourth and concluding movement of his Autumn Symphony . Marx wanted to get public exposure for his works at a time when modern tonal music was being increasingly marginalized on the musical landscape, and thought that the best way to do so was to take this movement and launch it on a career of its own. Sadly, it received scant attention, because it is a fetching piece on its own, a demonstration of the late German Romantic symphonic form at its most imaginative and aurally seductive.

The liner notes are excellent. I would recommend the ASV recording as a first choice to anybody seeking to hear what Marx can do, but the Feste im Herbst is a rare charmer that’s worth the price of admission alone.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777320-2

  • UPC: 761203732029

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Joseph Marx

  • Conductor: Johannes Wildner

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra