David Lively / Steven Sloane / Bochum Symphony Orchestra

Joseph Marx: Romantic Piano Concerto; Castelli Romani

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Joseph Marx, unrelated to either Karl or Groucho, was a versatile and popular figure in interwar Austria: a composer, teacher, critic, and, from the evidence here, a pianist of Rachmaninov-level talents. Although not derivative, his music was conservative, and that, together with a questionable World War II-era career, was enough to consign him to obscurity after the war. This recording by pianist David Lively and the Bochum Symphony Orchestra under Steven Sloane, revisited his music to good effect, and other recordings have followed. The Romantisches Klavierkonzert, or Romantic Piano Concerto, of 1919-1920 is conservative indeed, and must have seemed reassuring to Viennese audiences at the end of World War I. But even here, Marx draws on on various stylistic sources, and the piano part is impressively thorny. Perhaps more successful is the second work on the album, Castelli Romani (Roman Castles) for piano and orchestra, which incorporates hints of Impressionism, Delius, and Respighi and mixes them all with a profusion of melodies that, as annotator Berkant Haydin notes, brings to mind nothing so much as Hollywood film scores even though Marx himself never went to Hollywood. The ex-pat composers who shaped American film music would certainly have known Marx. Sample the highly evocative second movment of this concerto, and you'll reflect on the nature of the fusions that were heard in Hollywood from the 1930s onward. Other recordings of Marx have come along since this one, including a muscular reading of the Romantisches Klavierkonzert by Marc-André Hamelin, but this one still holds its own.

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