Steven Sloane / Bochum Symphony Orchestra

Joseph Marx: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2

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The Viennese composer Joseph Marx was admired by Nikolai Medtner, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and, more recently, Ricardo Chailly. He was extraordinarily prolific as a teacher as well. When the Nazis took over Austria, Marx lost his music criticism job but remained in Vienna. Because of suspicions of anti-Semitism (since largely disproved) and because of the general takeover of modernism in the German-language sphere after the war, his once very popular music was almost forgotten. It's well worth hearing; several conductors have revived it, but the attempt by the Bochum Symphony Orchestra under its longtime American conductor, Steven Sloane, has been the most thorough. Marx has the reputation of being a musical conservative, but that's not entirely fair. Even in the works here, written just before or in the early days of World War II, he uses Classical and Romantic styles in a novel way, and the label "neoclassical" seems somehow not to fit him. He may have modified his style to appeal to Nazi cultural authorities, but in fact the Alt-Wiener Serenaden, begun in 1937 well before the Anschuluss, is the most conservative of the three works, with songlike melodies and modal counterpoint reminiscent at times of Vaughan Williams. The Quartetto in modo antico and Quartetto in modo classico, both presented here in arrangements made by Marx in the last stages of the war, are not really the exercises in neoclassical writing their titles might suggest. Marx was influenced not only by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, but by Debussy and Scriabin, and although the derivations of the basic themes from older models is clear, what follows is not predictable. Sample the "Minuet" from the latter work for a taste: the music is fun and has a lightness entirely uncharacteristic of the Nazi aesthetic. Sloane and the Bochum Symphony know Marx's music well by now, and the performances are clean and idiomatic. Recommended, and a good place to start with Marx, who is not at all what he seems.

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