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Marx - Orchestral Songs and Choral Works

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Rating: * * * * *

If you feel you have exhausted the possibilities of Straussian ecstasy and are a mite Mahlered out, then a new disc of Joseph Marx songs and choral works might be just the tonic. Marx was an Austrian contemporary of Alban Berg who lived on until 1964, writing music that was a highly charged mix of German Late Romanticism and French Impressionism.

The Marx cocktail can be irresistible, with multiple frissons guaranteed. Indeed, had he been tempted to Hollywood, this composer could have been a rival to Korngold. This new Chandos disc gives us tales of swarthy gypsies, shy shepherd boys and whispering trees laid out over sumptuous orchestral settings, with the glorious voice of Christine Brewer soaring above.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra, under Jiri Belohlavek, is in exemplary form from the shimmering strings of Serenade to the lusty summertime jollity in Sommerlied.

One of Marx's short choral pieces, Morgengesang, with the Apollo Voices in good form, sounds like a ceremonial entry to Wagner's Valhalla itself, but I suspect many will feel they are already in heaven from the first bars of the disc's opening cantata, Herbstchor an Pan.

A new Lorraine Hunt Lieberson disc has the late American mezzo performing at Ravinia, Illinois, with the ideal partner in pianist Peter Serkin. Dating from 2004, it runs the range from Mozart (a fraught confrontation with a vindictive Cupid in a lonely glade) and Brahms (an emotionally gripping Von Ewige Liebe) to some elegant dalliances with the nymphs-and-satyrs set in Debussy's Trois Chansons de Bilitis.

Large chunks of Handel, however beautifully sung, could be a liability if you flinch at accompaniment provided by a grand piano, but only the terminally hard-hearted could resist counter-tenor Drew Minter, duetting divinely in an extract from Giulio Cesare.

The Ravinia concert comes with two encores; the spiritual Deep River steeped in soul and a bittersweet ballad from Percy Adlon's 1987 movie, Baghdad Cafe. The lyrics of Calling You are doubly poignant as, within two years of this concert, the singer would not be with us.

William Dart


- NZ Herald

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