WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Marek: Piano Works / Marie-catherine Girod

Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Guild   Catalog #: 7364/65  
Composer:  Czeslaw Marek
Performer:  Ingolf TurbanJitka CechovaMarie-Catherine Girod
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 28 Mins. 

In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Sustained sparkle and insight, a poetic pianism to match Marek.


MAREK Tryptique. 2 Méditations. Ballade. 2 Morceaux. 12 Variations on an Original Theme. Choral and Allegro. Echos de la jeunesse. Sarabande and Toccata. 3 Jazz-Caprices. 2 Foxtrots. 3 Dances. Chant varié. Suite Read more class="BULLET12"> • Marie-Catherine Girod (pn) GUILD 7364/65 (2 CDs: 151:49)

Czeslaw Jósef Marek was born in 1891 near Lemberg, the “Vienna of the East,” now Lviv, in the Austrian Crown country of Galicia, now Poland. In 1910, he entered the Vienna Conservatory and soon became a student of Europe’s most renowned piano teacher, Theodor Leschetizky, who was 80 years old at the time. On the recommendation of Zemlinsky, he studied composition with Karl Weigl, and later with Hans Pfitzner. In 1915, Marek arrived in Zurich, abandoned a promising concert career due to his wife’s prolonged illness, and worked as a private piano teacher. After becoming a Swiss citizen in 1932, he remained in the country until his death in 1985 at age 94.

The Guild label, with its dedication to Swiss music and musicians, has reissued these recordings of Marek’s complete piano and chamber works that originally appeared a decade ago on the Koch Schwann label. I urge you to look up Martin Anderson’s very positive review in the Fanfare Archive (23:3 from 2000) because I wholeheartedly share his enthusiasm for Marek’s piano music and for Marie-Catherine Girod’s performances.

Resourceful piano writing, colorful but never indulgently showy, is the hallmark of all of this music, starting with the earliest work, the Variations on an Original Theme from 1911. Marek’s compositional structures are conservative, but never sound formulaic. The first disc opens with his most ambitious piano composition, Tryptique . Its three-part form consist of three fugues, each preceded by an introductory piece, a Praeludium, Fantasia, and Chorale, respectively. If the description suggests the influence of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica— Marek was an associate of Busoni— Triptyque doesn’t have that work’s formidable length or density. The very engaging fugues not only demonstrate contrapuntal mastery but have a Mendelssohnian lilt (Nos. 1 and 3) and a Bachian tenderness (No. 2). The writing in the atmospheric Praeludium, Fantasia, and Chorale is comparable to that of the best passages in Franck’s piano works.

Surveying Marek’s piano oeuvre, I’m struck by how he set himself new compositional tasks in each work. The Méditations, Morceaux, and rather elaborate, Lisztian Ballade are late-Romantic character pieces with a harmonic vocabulary and a rich, masterly piano style comparable to Medtner’s. Older forms are convincingly explored in the Choral and Allegro, and the Sarabande and Toccata. The witty Echos de la jeunesse is, like Schumann’s Kinderscenen , about rather than for children. Chant varié elaborates on Liszt’s transcription of Chopin’s song The Maiden’s Wish . The second disc’s final offering is an orchestral transcription, the Suite, op. 40, whose gorgeous opening movement is inspired by the Prelude in Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin. It, along with Triptyque, is the most impressive of Marek’s works.

Disc 2, following the course of Marek’s output through the 1920s and ‘30s, finds his style turning toward jazz, with a series of charming, elegantly humorous pieces published under the pseudonym Mark Mat. They lack the subversive, fractured character of many jazz-influenced works by other central European composers, such as Schulhoff, Hindemith, Weill, and Stravinsky, for that matter. Marek’s dances and foxtrots sound like song transcriptions, good ones, affectionate, and gently swinging. Gershwin’s songs seem to be the influence, and what better model could there be?

The booklet notes explain the genesis of the Three Dances by quoting Marek: “On order that my wife could make foot and leg exercises that are useful for the therapy of her sick legs, we took some dancing hours.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist. These are the most mangled lines in Jürgen Schaarwächter’s generally informative essay. Guild does this admirable reissue a disservice by not hiring a better translator.

The recorded sound is excellent and Girod’s playing is colorful and supple. She conveys the warmth and refinement that, based on his music, must have been characteristic of Marek’s own playing. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel


This release by Swiss label Guild of solo piano works by Polish-Swiss composer Czeslaw Marek is in fact a reissue, as the recording date suggests. Actually, it a composite re-issue, in that the two CDs are a re-jigged compilation, with new notes, from two different discs previously published just over a decade ago by the now 'assimilated' Austrian label Koch-Schwann in a multi-disc series that was universally praised at the time.

The booklet notes seem to indicate that these are Marek's complete works for solo piano, apart from the Petite Suite op.36a, which, along with two pieces for two pianos, the Sérénade Italienne op.16a and Annemarie op.38a - both in fact his own transcriptions of other works - appeared on a worthy companion volume of chamber music, also released in 2011. Guild have also now issued a third volume, this time of songs and choral works (GMCD 7366/67).

Marek's corpus of works was fairly small; in fact, he had more or less stopped composing, with less than 50 opuses to his name - including a fair bit of judicious recycling - by the time he was fifty, preferring to spend the second half of his very long life concentrating on pedagogy. The fourteen works in French pianist Marie-Catherine Girod's extended recital are randomly ordered, although CD2 features predominantly later works, not least a few items from Marek's 'jazz' period, during which he used the pseudonym 'Mark Mat' and wrote scintillating music surprisingly evocative of Gershwin. In any case, there is no doubt that this volume represents far greater value for money than the first, a generous 149 minutes versus a miserly 96.

Marek's post-war descent into relative oblivion is highly puzzling, but this mini-series from Guild should go some way towards facilitating his musical resurrection. This piano volume in particular must be considered one of the best re-releases of the year. The silly claim in the booklet notes that "Marek's piano oeuvre offers in its variety an entire cosmos of piano music history" is brazen hype, but the music on these two discs amounts to much more than a collection of salon music that many of the titles may suggest. The combination of lyricism, pathos, sincerity and unostentatious invention - what Marek himself described as "classically orientated late Romanticism" - may be considered ‘old hat’ in more captious quarters, but for those who judge music on its own merits, rather than by measuring it against what the avant-garde was doing at the time, it is beguiling in its splendour.

The influence of Chopin and Szymanowski is self-evident but discreet, and from outside Poland, Bach, Brahms, Debussy and Ravel feed into the cosmopolitan Swiss musical culture Marek also absorbed. There is beautiful music at every turn, and many of these works belong in every pianophile's collection and in every pianist's repertory, from the lilting, Schumannesque nostalgia of Echos de la Jeunesse op.9 to the rich textures of the Chorale and Allegro op.11. The opening Triptyque op.8, likely a personal reflection of Busoni's Fantasia Contrappuntistica, and the final Suite op.40 come from opposite ends of Marek's composing career, but for sheer brilliance of imagination they are quite unbeatable.

Sound quality is good throughout. The English-German booklet is neat and informative, though purchasers should be forewarned that Jürgen Schaarwächter, author of the new German-language notes, has also translated them into English with an impressive competence not matched by an understanding of idiom. As a consequence, the notes have their own definite 'German accent'. Much of the time it is hardly noticeable, but at its worst it borders on the surreal: "Additionaly [sic] Marek writes: 'Or order that my wife could make foot and leg exercises that are useful for the therapy of her sick legs, we took some dancing hours.'" When will labels finally comprehend that saving money through not employing a native proof-reader is false economy? Incidentally, the spelling 'Tryptique' in the track listing appears to be Guild's - Marek published his work in Polish as 'Tryptyk'; in some sources it is accepted as an alternative to the expected 'Triptyque' (to which the editor has altered the spelling).

Marie-Catherine Girod's genial interpretations in the previous volume are continued here, and, indeed, added to with sustained sparkle and insight, a poetic pianism to match Marek's. Her profile may not be high on an international scale - unusually nowadays, she does not appear to have her own website - but in France she has continued to record and perform: an online interview with a French pianophile site mentions a discography of around 30, from Mendelssohn's complete oeuvre for piano for the Saphir label to works by French composers obscure or modern, like Pierre-Octave Ferroud, Gustave Samazeuilh or the remarkable Paul le Flem; and to fondly-recalled recordings of the likes of York Bowen or Arnold Bax on the now defunct Opès 3D.

-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
Read less

Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 13 by Czeslaw Marek
Performer:  Ingolf Turban (Violin), Jitka Cechova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Variations sur un thčme original, Op. 3 by Czeslaw Marek
Performer:  Marie-Catherine Girod (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Morceux (2), Op. 4 by Czeslaw Marek
Performer:  Marie-Catherine Girod (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Ballade for Piano, Op. 7 by Czeslaw Marek
Performer:  Marie-Catherine Girod (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Méditations, Op. 10 by Czeslaw Marek
Performer:  Marie-Catherine Girod (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Tryptique, Op. 8 by Czeslaw Marek
Performer:  Marie-Catherine Girod (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title