Marek: Suite for Orchestra; Méditations; Sinfonia

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Marek
LABELS: Koch
WORKS: Suite for Orchestra; Méditations; Sinfonia
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Gary Brain
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6439-2
This is a remarkable discovery, rendered all the more satisfying by a trio of cogent, impressive performances. Indeed, if Gary Brain can elicit in peripheral repertoire the sort of well-judged performances that he does here, then watch out for him in mainstream repertoire.

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Yet there’s nothing ‘peripheral’ about Czeslaw Marek (1891-1986), except that his name remains so unknown. His music is jam-packed with harmonic interest and colour, and spans several traditions: the Austro-German symphony, recharged by Schmidt and (indirectly) by Reger; the outer reaches of impressionism, exemplified by Respighi, Delius, Malipiero and his compatriot Szymanowski; and the kind of large-scale synthesis that was forged by the likes of early Schoenberg, Busoni and Schreker.

Even where Marek’s hybrid debts are most obvious, as in the early Méditations of 1911-13, his ability to build and sustain a symphonic argument of his own puts him virtually in the top flight. Ironically, it is only in the prize-winning Sinfonia, composed for the Schubert centenary of 1928, that he seems, momentarily, to flag midstream. Yet in that work’s dark outer edges; in the hushed, nocturnal denouement to the Méditations; and in the originality of the languorous Sarabande and mazurka-like Burlesque of the 1926 Suite, all is somehow subsumed into a highly original, tantalising and persuasive new voice.

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The Philharmonia is on stupendous form. The solo trumpet, paired woodwind, rampant double basses and upper strings all particularly impress. So (bar the odd pinched moment) does the clarity of sound. Roderic Dunnett