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Warsaw Philharmonic Archive – Markevitch
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

The Rite of Spring (1913 rev. 1947)
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Romeo and Juliet (1869 rev. 1879 and 1880)
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell (Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) (1946)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Igor Markevitch
Recorded Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, 26 and 27 January 1962 ADD
CD ACCORD ACD 115-2 [66.43]


Few twentieth century composer-conductors matched Markevitch in accomplishment and we’re fortunate that he recorded relatively extensively. I suppose that his recording of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies with the LSO is reckoned to be his greatest discographic legacy but his commitment to twentieth century music on record was no less impressive (his own elaboration of The Art of Fugue, Dallapiccola, Halfter, Milhaud, Mompou and Lili Boulanger amongst them). The Warsaw archives now disclose live performances from January 1962 of at least two works very close to his canonical repertoire, the Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. They are in many respects very welcome reminders of his art, not least to those of us unfortunate enough never to have seen him conduct in the concert hall.

He left behind two commercial recordings of The Rite of Spring, both with the Philharmonia – a mono from 1952 and a stereo remake in 1960. Both were in fine sound for the time and both had the advantage of a superb and characterful orchestra. It’s a curious feature of this 1962 live performance that, compared with Stravinsky’s own Columbia Symphony recording, Markevitch is consistently slower than Stravinsky in Part One and yet consistently quicker in Part Two. Thus his Part One Introduction prefers languor and insinuating romanticism though there’s no loss of drive and incision in the Mock Abduction and percussive fissures in The Procession of the Wise Elders. His Glorification of the Chosen Victim is dramatic and of superb clarity and the Sacrificial Dance every bit as elemental as Stravinsky’s own. What ought also to be noted however is the sound. The rather unsubtle and harsh acoustic works best in this work, less well elsewhere (it’s certainly the least pleasing acoustically of the Warsaw Archive recordings I’ve reviewed).

Romeo and Juliet fares the worst in this respect. Markevitch’s instincts are just right; romantic longing and rhythmic upsurge both timed splendidly; there is fine overall detail etched not with a clinician’s eye but rather with the eye of a superfine controller of structural incident. There is drama a-plenty here, in a work of which he left us a commercial recording, but the recording is far too cold and raw to allow much tonal bloom to emerge. The disc ends with a rather brash and unstately Britten - it’s rather quick and lacking in splendour.

If you lack either of the Rites or an example of Markevitch’s Tchaikovsky then this will do for now (with a heavy caveat regarding the unsympathetic sound, especially for Romeo). Markevitch is always worth hearing not least in this kind of repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf


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