Marx: Quartetto chromatico; Quartetto in modo classico; Quartetto in modo antico

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COMPOSERS: Marx
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Quartetto chromatico; Quartetto in modo classico; Quartetto in modo antico
PERFORMER: Lyric Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1073
In his native Austria, Joseph Marx (1882-1964) is still highly venerated as a fine composer of Lieder, and an important successor to Hugo Wolf. Elsewhere, however, his large output remains entirely neglected, though recently Marc-André Hamelin made out a convincing case for his reappraisal with a stunning recording of the 1919 Romantisches Klavierkonzert for Hyperion.

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The three quartets, composed between 1936 and 1941, inhabit the same resolutely conservative late-Romantic world, but the musical ideas are rather less memorable. In the Quartetto chromatico, Marx displays a strong indebtedness to Reger in the restless wandering from key to key, and shares a similar propensity for convoluted development of material. Similarly, the Quartetto in modo classico, while paying nostalgic homage to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, would have benefited from a more rigorous control of structure.

The most convincing piece, to my mind, is the Quartetto in modo antico. Here Marx utilises his considerable contrapuntal skills to great effect. The resultant modal language, which in his own words attempts to ‘recreate the unforgettable experience of an ancient landscape’, comes surprisingly close to Vaughan Williams in places.

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The Lyric Quartet overcomes the substantial technical hurdles of Marx’s writing with impressive aplomb, although the limited tonal and dynamic range of its playing doesn’t always serve the composer to best advantage. Erik Levi