The orchestral songs and choral works of Austrian fin de siècle composer Joseph Marx have many virtues; they are superbly written, deeply felt, and utterly sincere. If that were all it took, Marx would be known as one of the great composers of his time. But a great composer must also be inspired, and Marx was not. His reactionary harmonic language rarely sounds like it was written after 1880, the year of the composer's birth. (While Franz Schmidt's harmonic language was equally conservative, he could, inspired by the tragedy of his daughter's death, write a masterpiece like his Fourth Symphony.) No such inspiration touched Marx, and the works pass by without leaving a trace on the listener's memory. Marx's sober song settings and staid choral treatments were unusual in music of his own time, compared with those of his contemporaries Strauss and Mahler, but not in the broader context of music history -- think of Mendelssohn and Brahms -- and conservatism alone would not have sunk these works. What does sink them is their intense mediocrity and excruciating blandness. Marx never makes an adventurous choice when he could make a safe one, and he seems oddly intent on never exciting the listener's interest. Though the performances by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Jirí Belohlávek are competent, and stentorian soprano soloist Christine Brewer does her best with the material, none of the musicians can make a strong case that Marx's music is worthy of revival. Chandos' digital sound is rich, deep, and clear.
AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Herbstchor an Pan, for soloists, children's choir & orchestra|