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Tomas Marco: Symphonies No 2, 8 And 9 / Serebrier, Malaga Philharmonic

Marco / Serebrier / Malaga Philharmonic Orch
Release Date: 02/28/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572684   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Tomás Marco
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

MARCO Symphonies: No. 2; No. 8; No. 9 José Serebrier, cond; Malaga PO NAXOS 8.572684 (61:58)

Tomás Marco was born in Madrid, and turned 70 this year. A prolific and prize-winning composer, he has so far written nine symphonies and a number of concertos, operas, and other large-scale works. My own history with this composer (for what it’s worth) is as follows: Initially I bought then quickly discarded a Col Legno recording of his Symphonies 4 and 5, finding the music turgid and unattractive. In Read more 2007, I favorably reviewed a disc of his concertos for cello and guitar (No. 3), which re-ignited my interest in the composer. I went on to purchase a Koch recording of the First Guitar Concerto, which I enjoyed somewhat less than the Third. I also have in my collection a Wergo disc of new Spanish music for two pianos, which includes a major Marco composition titled Fandangos, fados y tangos (1991); that work is acute in its deconstruction of Spanish dance styles. I note that Fanfare reviewer Stephen Ellis placed a disc of Marco’s first three symphonies on his 1992 Want List, labeling the composer a “fascinating orchestral imagist,” yet in Fanfare 20:5 Lawrence A. Johnson intensely disliked a BIS recording of his music (including a violin concerto) which he panned as “one of the label’s rare clinkers.” Johnson pointed out that Marco had been an assistant and student of Stockhausen, a fact that dampened the reviewer’s enthusiasm from the start. (At Darmstadt, Marco also studied with Maderna and Boulez.)

Such varied opinions would be enough to put most readers on their guard, and might dissuade them from sampling Marco’s work; yet here on a relatively cheap disc are new recordings of his early and late orchestral music conducted by no less a person than José Serebrier. Is it worth trying?

The best starting point is Ellis’s description of Marco as an orchestral imagist. The composer deals in sonorities—blocks of sound, in fact—so even when rhythms are dominant, as they sometimes are, they are not used to create momentum but rather as a color in the overall canvas. The same applies to melodic fragments. Once you realize this is how Marco proceeds, his music becomes easier to understand and appreciate.

The sea is the inspiration behind the two-movement Ninth Symphony of 2009, subtitled “Thalassa” after the Ancient Greek spirit of the ocean. The symphony plays continuously, combining a literally deep, slow-moving first movement with a varied and often surprising second. Trombone glissandi are a feature of the opening, echoed by double basses toward the end of the work. A clarinet theme suggesting the world of antiquity is also an important part of the orchestral texture. The generally placid coda is punctuated by fierce and unpredictable fortissimo chords, the last of which abruptly cuts off the flow of the music. Despite an occasional harp arpeggio, this is not Debussy’s ocean; Marco is more into the depths than the surface. (Debussy covers both, of course.) Like the ocean, this music is massive, multihued, and random.

The Eighth Symphony of 2008 bears the subtitle “Gaia’s Dance.” While Marco’s approach is similar, the source material here is rhythmic: a work in the realm of the two-piano piece I mentioned above. All three continuous movements contain extended passages of stamping, ritualistic dance music—the primitivism not of early Stravinsky so much as André Jolivet (another composer who divides audiences). Repetition of these rhythmic figures serves to create a solid, inert effect, the equivalent of dancers depicted on an ancient fragment of pottery.

The Symphony No. 2 of 1985 is a single-movement work, subtitled “Espacio Cerrado” (Closed Space). At a little over 15 minutes, it is the shortest of these three symphonies. I don’t know to what kind of closed space the title refers, but the opening orchestral figure sounds remarkably like the slamming of a metal door, while creepy two-note stabs within a wailing string texture are not far removed from the symbolism of Shostakovich’s quartets. A visceral filmic quality, like the underscore to a scene of brooding disquiet, supports Ellis’s description of the composer as an imagist.

Such dense music needs clarity in performance. In fact, that is what was wrong with the old disc of Symphonies 4 and 5: recorded live in scrappy performances and a reverberant acoustic, they sounded like a mess. This is far from the case with the Málaga orchestra under Serebrier. When Serebrier was a young man, his ear for orchestral balance was praised by his mentor Stokowski, and it is this ability that enables him to separate the strands of Marco’s thick textures. It strikes me that Serebrier is one of those conductors who go about their business for decades, giving excellent performances and never making a dud record, but who are only truly appreciated in their latter years. (Mackerras was another.) The recording quality, while a fraction closer than I would like, reveals every minute detail within the large swathes of sound.

To sum up: This is the best introduction yet to a strong-minded, substantial composer whose music may well grow on you.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 "Espacio cerrado" by Tomás Marco
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th/21st Century 
Written: 1985 
Symphony no 9 "Thalassa" by Tomás Marco
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2009 
Symphony no 8 "Gaia's Dance" by Tomás Marco
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th/21st Century 
Written: 2008 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Modern Spanish Symphonic Works September 25, 2012 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Tomas Marco is a name I had not previously encountered prior to listening to this recording. My initial reaction to these 3 symphonies was generally positive. Marco's music is never dull, has plenty of color and versatility, and in general makes for good listening. As you might expect, these very modern compositions do not fit the mold of the Classical or Romantic eras. There are periodic excursions into the realm of sharp dissonance, which may disconcert the conservative ear. Nevertheless, Marco's work is interesting and merits a try. The Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra plays superbly under Jose Serebrier's direction. Sound quality is excellent, as is usually the case with Naxos these days." Report Abuse
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