Reviews

GMCD 7366/67 – Czeslaw Marek – Songs & Choral Music

Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), Krysztof Smietana (violin), Iain Burnside (piano)

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Musik & Theater – Oktober/November 2012

Pianistenmusik
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.
LEHMAN

MusicWeb International March 2012

Guild has faced a dilemma when it comes to their repackaging of ex-Koch Swann recordings devoted to Czeslaw Marek. Their answer has been to consolidate this material into four twofers, dedicated to the piano music, chamber and more piano music, orchestral music and – as here – the songs and choral music. The sessions were made towards the end of the 1990s, so it’s well and good that it’s made available in this fashion, albeit there are certain collateral considerations to ponder.
Foremost in this volume is the matter of duplication. As the head-note indicates, there are two especially lovely cycles in this twofer – Rural Scenes, Op.30 and Village Songs, Op.34 – but they are heard twice. On the first disc we hear Elzbieta Szmytka sing them with the accompaniment of Iain Burnside, and on the second she is accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Gary Brain. This, then, is already stretching toward specialist territory as I doubt many will particularly wish to hear both the piano and the orchestral versions, no matter that they do reflect a different aesthetic and are independently very attractive.
However, if one leaves this issue to the potential purchaser, one can certainly suggest why you should want to listen to Marek’s music. Even as early as the Op.1 Songs we can hear attractive things in both the vocal and piano lines, the latter indeed steering toward the sound world of his compatriot Szymanowski in the very first setting. These 1911-13 settings are playful, confident but stylistically aware and are parcelled out to Jean Rigby and William Dazeley who both due them justice. The Op.17 songs reflect similar qualities, though the mood deepens. There’s a wistful, melancholy, Schubertian air alongside the geniality of some of the settings, the mood lightening in true narrative fashion as it progresses. For the fourth song Marek introduces a violin part, finely played by Krysztof Smietana.
The Rural Scenes consist of seven settings and were composed in 1929. They are fresh, outgoing and extremely winning songs. The piano accompanied versions are obviously the more compact, as the orchestral arrangements are necessarily more languorous. Several names come to mind, if one wants to summon up their ethos. Other critics have pointed to Canteloube, whose influence seems to permeate the first setting, Chmiel – especially noticeable in the orchestral version – though it seems doubtful that Marek could have known Chants d’Auvergne, which was completed at around the same time. Madeleine Grey’s recording didn’t emerge until 1930. But there is also, perhaps more pertinently, the dual influence of Bartók and Janác(ek. The ethnographic work of both seems clear, and the third setting sounds distinctly like one of Janác(ek’s lighter Moravian folk settings, the fifth like one of Bartók’s Hungarian or Slovak ones. The Village Songs date from 1934, and are a touch more suave, and ‘classical’. Harmonically more sophisticated, they’re correspondingly a touch less earthy, but still delightful and well worth getting to know.
The other works fall to the Chorus. There’s a most beautiful late, 1975 Polish Hymn, composed with moving simplicity and directness. Death Melody is an impressively constructed early work. The choral works in general show some influence of Richard Strauss and perhaps a touch of late Brahms. There’s one hybrid song that shows Marek’s cabaret side. This is the Annemarie, Fox-Trot, which suffers from a dual problem: it’s not as good as similar works by Ježek or Schulhoff, and it also can’t decide if it’s a song or a piano solo. So it decides to be both.
There are no texts or translations of the songs but if you go to Guild’s website you can find the original Polish texts with English and German translations. Guild’s notes are good ones by Jürgen Schaarwächter. Try to make Marek’s acquaintance if you enjoy his late-Romantic-cum-folkloric ethos. These excellent performances will help no end.
Jonathan Woolf
Late-Romantic-cum-folkloric music in excellent performances.