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Igor MARKEVITCH (1912-1983)
Piano Concerto* (1929)
Cantate† (1929-30)
Icare (1932, rev. 1943)
Martijn van den Hoek (Piano) *
Nienke Oostenrijk (soprano) †
Men’s voices of the Nederlands Concertcoor †
Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
Rec. Musis Sacrum, Arnhem, April 1998, April 1999 DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225076 [65:40]


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.

Treating heartsink 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 maturity.

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:

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