About 20 years ago,
I was a junior hospital doctor when
the term "heartsink patient"
was coined. Although such a patient
could have almost any combination of
medical problems, the defining factor
was that the doctor’s heart would sink
as they came into the consulting room.
What could one possibly do to help this
person? Heartsink probably exists in
most jobs and I have now had my first
experience of it as a music reviewer.
I listened to this
disc shortly after it arrived. Interesting
music, I thought, better find out more
about it. The first thing I found out
was that Rob Barnett and Hubert Culot
had already written reviews of this
disc (see links below). I read the reviews,
listened to the disc again and my heart
sank. What could I possibly add? The
disc went to the bottom of the reviewing
pile. But now it’s the last one left
and, if I don’t do something before
the next batch of goodies arrives from
Len, I never will.
patients requires some thinking "out
of the box" and so perhaps that
is the solution here. Also linked below
are two interesting articles which consider
the attributes of great music (David
Wright) and conductors who compose (Norman
Lebrecht). Rather than review the disc
in the ordinary way, I propose to briefly
consider the case of Igor Markevitch
in the context of these articles and
the works on this disc. It may be a
good idea to read the other reviews
and articles first.
Markevitch is certainly
now best remembered as a conductor.
His discography includes quite a wide
range of music, the highlights of which
are probably his Tchaikovsky symphony
series and Stravinsky’s ballets. Yet
he was also quite a prolific composer
- this disc is volume 6 in his complete
orchestral music. The music on it is
strikingly the product of youth – the
Piano Concerto and Cantate were written
by the age of 17, and the first version
of Icare about three years later.
The concerto has obvious youthful exuberance
but the other two works show considerable
According to Lebrecht,
few conductors write music of much worth
(he cites three exceptions, Mahler,
Boulez and Bernstein) but it is "not
uncommon for great composers to excel
as conductors". So which side of
this coin was Markevitch and was he
a great composer? Here David Wright’s
attributes of great music are useful:
(1) originality (2) worthiness (3) emotive
and intellectual response (4) inspiration
(5) craftsmanship and technique (6)
durability (7) coherence (8) contrast
(9) length (10) content. Listening to
Icare in particular (in a revision
made in the composer’s 30s), I concluded
that all these criteria were met. Originality
is presumably first because it is the
most important and there is no doubt
that Markevitch has a distinctive voice.
Wright makes a clear distinction between
"famous" and "great"
which is apposite here. Famous this
music is not but great it may well be.
Of course, in the end, it is a matter
of opinion whether the attributes are
present (and indeed whether one accepts
David Wright’s thesis).
In Lebrecht’s scheme,
Markevitch seems to be a composer who
conducted but perhaps he was both, a
fine musician whose compositions and
recordings are there waiting for us
to (re)discover. Now I have finished
writing, I am glad I was allocated this
record after all.
Patrick C Waller
Review by Rob Barnett:
Review by Hubert Culot:
Article by David Wright:
Article by Norman Lebrecht: