Igor MARKEVITCH (1912-1983)
Complete Orchestral Works: Vol.4
Rébus (1931) [25:35]
Hymnes (1932) / Hymne à la Mort (1936) [28:57]
Arnhem Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. 1 March 1996 and 15 June 1996, Musis Sacrum, Arnhem, The Netherlands. DDD
re-issue of Marco Polo 8.223724
NAXOS 8.572154 [54:32]
Complete Orchestral Works: Vol.5
Lorenzo il Magnifico (1940) [28:25]
Psaume (1933) [23:43]
Lucy Shelton (soprano)
Arnhem Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. 3-6 September 1996, Musis Sacrum, Arnhem, The Netherlands. DDD
re-issue of Marco Polo 8.223882
NAXOS 8.572155 [52:08]
Although commissioned, and written as such, as a ballet, Rébus never seems to have been danced! It doesn’t matter for it makes a splendid six movement orchestral suite. Because of the ballet element there is, perhaps, more thematic interweaving than one might normally get in an orchestral suite, but this only aids the listener when listening to it for the first time. It’s a more difficult piece than L’envol d’Icare, which was written two years later, but here the composer is coming to terms with a neo-classical style, which, perhaps, doesn’t sit too comfortably on his young shoulders. That said, it’s a fine piece of work, with each movement clearly and distinctly characterised with spiky orchestration and a sense of fun. It might be that there is just a little too much insistence on repetitive rhythms - the final Parade is almost too much to bear in its continued sameness, but as he had dance in mind when composing there is probably a really good reason for this.
The Hymnes consist of a Prelude and three Hymns with the Hymne à la Mort added later, and being a version of the last of the Trois Poèmes for voice and piano of 1935. According to the notes, as late as 1980 Markevitch was making small changes to the score - surely this proves that he never lost sight of his musical roots as a composer. This performance uses the original score as Lyndon-Gee sees the later edition as “… crude, and by no means tonally more effective than the original.” This is a much more serious work than Rébus, and it’s hard to believe that it was written only a year later, so great is the assurance of the composer in his use of material and of the orchestra, when compared to the earlier piece. The second Hymn is especially elegant, starting as a clarinet solo, over sustained strings, and developing into a duet with flute. This is quite beautiful. The following movement is full of rhythmic interplay, and it’s very exciting and freely tonal, but Markevitch spoils what he has written by putting two loud common chords at the end, which are totally out of place with the rest of the music. The final Hymne à la Mort is very slow and packed with atmosphere, the music quietly making its weary way to its conclusion, ending with the stroke of a bell.
Lorenzo il Magnifico was Markevitch’s penultimate work - only the Variations, Fugue and Envoi on a Theme of Handel, for piano, remained to be written. Subtitled Sinfonia Concertante, this is a huge work, conceived in the broadest terms, and scored for a large orchestra. Four vocal movements surround a central orchestral meditation, which comes as something of a relief after much high-powered singing - both the music itself and the delivery.
With Psaume we are back to the driven, slightly unsubtle, music heard in Rébus. There’s a rather mystical feel to this music but, at the same time, there’s a playfulness and a joy, perhaps in simply living.
Throughout, Lucy Shelton is the accurate soprano, but I do feel that she has too narrow a range of emotion. There’s too much loud, declamatory singing and insufficient introspection and calm. She also displays a wide vibrato and the ear soon tires of the constant variation in pitch as she sings. The orchestra is first rate, the notes very good and the sound clear and bright. If you’re still wondering whether or not to investigate this fascinating composer I recommend you start with Volume 3 (see review). If you’re already hooked then these are very exciting and rewarding issues.
Bob Briggs 

Exciting and rewarding issues.