Notes and Editorial Reviews
Angelika Kirchschlager (mez); Anthony Spiri (pn)
CPO 777 4662 (50:47)
The 1920s was a bad time to start clinging on to post-romanticism; Joseph Marx, 22 years Hugo Wolf’s junior, and so obviously a natural successor, just got swallowed up by his period. While Berg, Schönberg, and Webern were gradually defining the future of composition, Marx, already a major figure in Vienna, became more and more obsolete. What I didn’t know before acquiring this disc was that he was hired by Atatürk in
1932 to promote Western-style music-teaching methods in Turkey, before the more avant-garde Paul Hindemith took over a year later. Clearly a baton had been passed. What could he have imagined the musical world would turn into by the time he died in 1964? With one of the last respected carriers of the tonal torch, Poulenc, having died the previous year, Marx was a forgotten relic in the court of Boulez, Henze, and Stockhausen. Reappraisal of him has been sporadic but passionate, with some enterprising discs of his orchestral work appearing, and a smattering of his Lieder still being called standard repertoire, popular with singers like Renée Fleming, Irmgard Seefried, and even Leontyne Price, eager to sing something other than Wolf or Strauss, but an entire disc of his songs is still rare.
CPO has done well in attracting a star like Angelika Kirchschlager to this broad selection of 24 songs, and her light but creamy mezzo is ideal for these unashamedly romantic pieces that also require a more nimble touch. The densely written accompaniment (like Strauss, Marx writes very orchestrally for the piano) is beautifully handled by Anthony Spiri, giving these readings a lively, less self-regarding air than many Marx interpretations, such as Fleming’s rather grand account of
on Decca, which comes in a minute longer than Kirchschlager’s.
Wisely picking texts from the
that were not set by Wolf, Marx wrote 17 settings, 11 of which are given here. They are remarkable not just for conveying the text’s quicksilver changes of mood and tone but also for their corresponding musical styles. There is a definite chanson feel to
, as befits the languid love poem, and there is something very Slavic about
Es zühnt das Meer’
s stormy, heated passion. It is hardly surprising that most of these were written in eight days, such is the profusion of melodic ideas and tonal changes. These are works of untamed brilliance.
Next is Marx’s
, a 1932 cycle of five poems, including
Auf der Campagna,
written by Marx himself. The overriding themes of exile and death (the song
is dedicated to Marx’s parents) are vividly caught here in this mature work. A similar sense of Heimat is apparent in the remaining eight songs, like
. Paradoxically there is nothing French in style about Marx’s setting of Verlaine’s
), a dark, shadowy piece though it is.
Hat dich die Liebe berührt
, a love song with the same autumnal poise as Strauss’s
, provides a soulful conclusion to a slightly random but convincing overview of Marx’s Lieder output.
It is not always helpful constantly comparing Marx to Wolf, but for those who still find the elder composer’s style too elusive, Marx can be the way in, as the more immediate melodist and the one less reluctant to wear his heart on his sleeve. This is just the disc to start one’s journey of Marxism with; beautiful in their way, the diva approaches from Price and Fleming tend to smother these delicate works. Although some of Kirchschlager’s chocolate color to her mezzo is beginning to fade, it is scarcely noticeable and more than compensated for by her love of text; she is a modern singer who revels in word-painting and expression, increasingly rare nowadays, but absolutely essential to get these little 20th-century gems to shine. Sound is bright and clear, although Kirchschlager is a little too closely miked. Also, at 50 minutes, it is a short CD; surely there was room for the rest of the
settings, not to mention the other 120 songs to pick from. I do hope this is an ongoing series from cpo, as the presentation is up to its usual standard with superb essays and translations. This one’s a keeper.
FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
Works on This Recording
Verklärtes Jahr: Excerpt(s) by Joseph Marx
Anthony Spiri (Piano),
Angelika Kirchschlager (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930-1932; Austria
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