GMCD 7364/65 – Czeslaw Marek – Piano Works

Marie-Catherine Girod – piano

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Musik & Theater – Oktober/November 2012

Mehr als die Hälfte seines Lebens widmete der Pole Czestaw Marek (1891-1985) der Unterrichtstätigkeit. Der gefragte Klavierlehrer und Autor der «Lehre des Klavierspiels» war zuvor als Pianist gefeiert und als Komponist geschätzt worden. In Ostgalizien geboren, in Wien vom Czerny-Schüler Theodor Leschetizky und in Strassburg von Hans Pfitzner ausgebildet, lebte er seit 1915 in Zürich. Dank einer von ihm gegründeten Stiftung ist ein beträchtlicher Teil seines Schaffens im Notentext noch zu Lebzeiten erschienen und wurde in den vergangen Jahren auch auf CD eingespielt. Stilistische Vielfalt, Eklektizismus und grosse Qualitätsunterschiede machen es dem Hörer nicht leicht, sich in dem Gemisch von Spätromantik und Neoklassizismus, Postimpressionismus und Folklorismus zurechtzufinden. Die stärkste Wirkung üben ausgerechnet die hinreissend vitalen «Ländlichen Szenen» op.30 für hohe Singstimme und Orchester aus, deren Themen nicht vom Komponisten, sondern aus der polnischen Volksmusik stammen. In Farbenreichtum, Ausdrucksintensität und differenzierter Instrumentierung mit dem Kolorismus seines Landsmannes Karol Szymanowski vergleichbar, lassen sie leicht vergessen, womit sich Marek als Klavierkomponist schwer getan hat. Prägnante Themenbildung war seine Stärke nicht. In den pianistisch attraktiven Variationen op.3 überzeugt die in den Veränderungen entwickelte Fantasie mehr als das eigene Thema. Jenseits der Einflüsse von Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Franck, Reger, Paderewski, Ravel und weiteren Vorbildern verdient im Triptyque op.8, das sich aus drei Vorspielen und Fugen zusammensetzt, die wohlklingende Faktur der polyfonen Teile beachtet zu werden. Als Nachbildung der Sarabande aus Debussys «Pour le Piano» erweist sich die Sarabande op.27. Ihr Mittelteil weckt mit erweiterter Tonalität Hoffnungen auf eine Weiterentwicklung.
Jedoch: In der für Marek zentralen Klaviermusik bleibt sie ebenso aus wie in den Violinwerken, von denen die frühe Sonate in F-Dur wenigstens der satztechnischen Meisterschaft wegen zu beeindrucken vermag. Zu der von komponierenden Dirigenten hervorgebrachten Kapellmeistermusik schuf Marek als erfahrener Konzertpianist ein Pendant, das man als Pianistenmusik bezeichnen könnte. Was ihm gleichsam aus den Fingern floss, ist und klingt trotz des Mangels an plastischen Themen und individueller Eigenart stets ausgesprochen pianistisch. Von diesem Umstand profitieren die Hauptinterpretin Marie-Catherine Girod und Ludmifa Janowska, Partnerin in den unter dem Pseudonym Mark Mat vorliegenden, unterhaltsamen Stücken für zwei Klaviere. Für das im Konzertsaal verstummte Schaffen setzen sich ausserdem so renommierte Künstler wie der Geiger Ingolf Turban, die Sopranistin Elzbieta Szmytka und das Philharmonia Orchestra unter Gary Brain tüchtig ein.
Walter Labhart

American Record Guide – September/October 2012

These are reissues (GMCD 7362/63, GMCD 7364/65 and GMCD 7366/67) of Koch-Schwann recordings that came out about a dozen years ago as single discs, now repackaged by Guild as two disc sets. These recordings introduced an international audience to the little-known music of Czeslaw Marek (1891-1985), a Polish born pianist and composer who spent most of his very long adult life in Switzerland.
Readers wanting detailed descriptions of Marek and his music should see our original reviews (May/June 1999, May/June 2000, Nov/Dec 2000, Mar/Apr 2001, July/Aug 2001). They concur in praising his refinement, warmth, and skill in the late-romantic-shading-into-early-modern styles that he worked in. The earlier pieces show his debt to Brahms and Dvorak as well as his teachers Hans Pfitzner and Karl Weigl, along with a French tinge that sometimes makes him sound like a sort of Central European Fauré. The later music shows the composer’s growing knowledge of Strauss, Mahler, Busoni, Ravel, Szymanowski, Janacek, the folk-music settings of Bartok and Kodaly, and the latest-craze import from across the Atlantic, jazz. But for all his absorption of wide-ranging influences and his chameleonic stylistic wanderings, Marek maintains a consistent artistic temperament: sensuous but elegant, ardent but decorous, imaginative in harmonic nuances and instrumental color but fastidious in craft and propriety, always respectful of the traditions of both art music and of the indigenous songs of his homeland.
There are many marvelous pieces on these discs (and also in the orchestral works originally on Koch that Guild hasn’t so far reissued) along with, it must added, a fair number of minor items that might be fairly described as superior salon music. The fine 1914 Violin Sonata, like everything here, is beautifully performed and recorded. But if I had to choose the epitome of Marek’s achievement, I’d single out his vocal settings. Again and again he wrote for the voice—and instrumental accompaniments for the voice—with divine inspiration. This is apparent all through the two marvellous discs of vocal works, many of them sung by soprano Elzbieta Szmytka, who has a pure, almost childlike voice of angelic sweetness and sadness, ideal for Marek’s settings of Polish folk poetry. Of these there are two enchanting 20-minute cycles, both in versions with piano and with orchestral accompaniment: Rural Scenes from 1929, and Village Songs from 1934. ‘Pastorale’, the second song in Rural Scenes, and ‘Na Wojence Dalekiej’ (The Far-Away War), the third song in Village Songs, are ravishing in their haunting loveliness: quite simply among the most beautiful vocal works in creation.
Guild doesn’t print the texts and English translations (included in the original Koch releases) though they’re available on the company’s web site. But this does include both the voice-and-piano and the voice-and-orchestra versions. As you’d expect, with piano the cycles are more intimate and agile; the orchestral renderings are more voluptuous and expansive. Both are gorgeous—somewhere between Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne and Bartok’s Hungarian Folk Songs. A magical place to be.

MusicWeb International November 2011

This release by Swiss label Guild of solo piano works by Polish-Swiss composer Czeslaw Marek is in fact a reissue, as the recording date suggests. Actually, it a composite re-issue, in that the two CDs are a re-jigged compilation, with new notes, from two different discs previously published just over a decade ago by the now ‘assimilated’ Austrian label Koch-Schwann in a multi-disc series that was universally praised at the time.
The booklet notes seem to indicate that these are Marek’s complete works for solo piano, apart from the Petite Suite op.36a, which, along with two pieces for two pianos, the Sérénade Italienne op.16a and Annemarie op.38a – both in fact his own transcriptions of other works – appeared on a worthy companion volume of chamber music, also released in 2011 – see review. Guild have also now issued a third volume, this time of songs and choral works (GMCD 7366/67).
Marek’s corpus of works was fairly small; in fact, he had more or less stopped composing, with less than 50 opuses to his name – including a fair bit of judicious recycling – by the time he was fifty, preferring to spend the second half of his very long life concentrating on pedagogy. The fourteen works in French pianist Marie-Catherine Girod’s extended recital are randomly ordered, although CD2 features predominantly later works, not least a few items from Marek’s ‘jazz’ period, during which he used the pseudonym ‘Mark Mat’ and wrote scintillating music surprisingly evocative of Gershwin. In any case, there is no doubt that this volume represents far greater value for money than the first, a generous 149 minutes versus a miserly 96.
Marek’s post-war descent into relative oblivion is highly puzzling, but this mini-series from Guild should go some way towards facilitating his musical resurrection. This piano volume in particular must be considered one of the best re-releases of the year. The silly claim in the booklet notes that “Marek’s piano oeuvre offers in its variety an entire cosmos of piano music history” is brazen hype, but the music on these two discs amounts to much more than a collection of salon music that many of the titles may suggest. The combination of lyricism, pathos, sincerity and unostentatious invention – what Marek himself described as “classically orientated late Romanticism” – may be considered ‘old hat’ in more captious quarters, but for those who judge music on its own merits, rather than by measuring it against what the avant-garde was doing at the time, it is beguiling in its splendour.
The influence of Chopin and Szymanowski is self-evident but discreet, and from outside Poland, Bach, Brahms, Debussy and Ravel feed into the cosmopolitan Swiss musical culture Marek also absorbed. There is beautiful music at every turn, and many of these works belong in every pianophile’s collection and in every pianist’s repertory, from the lilting, Schumannesque nostalgia of Echos de la Jeunesse op.9 to the rich textures of the Chorale and Allegro op.11. The opening Triptyque op.8, likely a personal reflection of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica, and the final Suite op.40 come from opposite ends of Marek’s composing career, but for sheer brilliance of imagination they are quite unbeatable.
Sound quality is good throughout. The English-German booklet is neat and informative, though purchasers should be forewarned that Jürgen Schaarwächter, author of the new German-language notes, has also translated them into English with an impressive competence not matched by an understanding of idiom. As a consequence, the notes have their own definite ‘German accent’. Much of the time it is hardly noticeable, but at its worst it borders on the surreal: “Additionaly [sic] Marek writes: ‘Or order that my wife could make foot and leg exercises that are useful for the therapy of her sick legs, we took some dancing hours.'” When will labels finally comprehend that saving money through not employing a native proof-reader is false economy? Incidentally, the spelling ‘Tryptique’ in the track listing appears to be Guild’s – Marek published his work in Polish as ‘Tryptyk’; in some sources it is accepted as an alternative to the expected ‘Triptyque’ (to which the editor has altered the spelling).
Marie-Catherine Girod’s genial interpretations in the previous volume are continued here, and, indeed, added to with sustained sparkle and insight, a poetic pianism to match Marek’s. Her profile may not be high on an international scale – unusually nowadays, she does not appear to have her own website – but in France she has continued to record and perform: an online interview with a French pianophile site mentions a discography of around 30, from Mendelssohn’s complete oeuvre for piano for the Saphir label to works by French composers obscure or modern, like Pierre-Octave Ferroud, Gustave Samazeuilh or the remarkable Paul le Flem; and to fondly-recalled recordings of the likes of York Bowen or Arnold Bax on the now defunct Opès 3D.
Collected reviews and contact at
Sustained sparkle and insight, a poetic pianism to match Marek.