Steven Sloane

Joseph Marx: Alt-Wiener Serenaden; Partita in Modo Antico; Sinfonia in Modo Classico

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Influenced in youth by Reger, Debussy, and Scriabin, Austrian composer Joseph Marx was something of a "Romantic Impressionist," particularly noted for his use of lush chromatic harmonies and evocative sonorities. Yet in the 1930s, under the cultural repression of the Nazis, Marx adopted a blatantly reactionary style, purportedly to preserve German values "for better times." Whatever justifications may be made for Marx's stylistic volte face -- whether for appeasement or for his own survival -- his music from this period has an artificial quality about it that smacks more of pastiche than of authentic creativity. The Alt-Wiener Serenaden (1941-1942) pretends to be in a quaint Viennese style, but it seems more a muddle of Renaissance and Classical motifs oddly cast in a quasi-symphonic, middle-Romantic idiom -- perhaps pleasant on the surface for its sweetness, but deeply confused in conception. The Partita in Modo Antico (1937-1938) and the Sinfonia in Modo Classico (1940-1941) are at least overt in their references to past periods, but they are contrived in their ill-fitting archaisms, unconvincing in development, and rather dull in material. The Bochum Symphony Orchestra, under Steven Sloane, gives polished and apparently sincere performances for this 2004 ASV release, but that is not enough to make this bland CD a keeper.

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