Remembered as a conductor of highly specialised tastes, Igor Markevitch
started his musical career as pianist and composer. He was “discovered”
by Diaghilev who commissioned, in 1929, a Piano Concerto, which
Markevitch performed at Covent Garden. By the age of 20 he as
regarded as a major figure in the world of contemporary composition,
but in 1933 he conducted his Ballet Suite, Rebus
Concertgebouw Orchestra. This occasioned a change in the direction
of his life. He ceased composing in 1942, after suffering a serious
illness and making the decision to become a conductor. He took
lessons from Pierre Monteux and the rest, as they say, is history.
As a composer he was known as “The Second Igor”, the first being
Stravinsky, and it is said that after hearing a performance of
– in the 1933 arrangement for two pianos
and three percussionists of his 1932 ballet Icare
took the inspiration to write his Sonata for Two Pianos and
. Indeed, Bartók wrote to Markevitch, stating, "You
are the most striking personality in contemporary music, and I
am happy to thank you for the influence you have had on me."
His son, Oleg Caetani, with his second wife Donna Topazia Caetani,
is currently chief conductor and artistic director of the Melbourne
It is only in the past fifteen or twenty years that Markevitch’s
work as a composer has started being re-evaluated. One can see
why he was so highly prized at the time he was composing. L’envol
, with its imaginative orchestral writing, very colourful
palette of sound and wealth of memorable themes is a work one
wants to hear again and again. This is an endlessly fascinating
piece. Lyndon–Gee, who has done more than anyone to put Markevitch’s
music back into circulation, has recorded seven CDs of Markevitch’s
orchestral music. These are performances which are very good indeed.
The present performance is very good, especially as the musicians
cannot have known the music before the recording took place. If
you really want to hear this music in an electrifying reading
you must investigate the 1958 recording of Icare
version) by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (as
part of a 10 disk set of live performances on the Philharmonic’s
own label – available by mail order from the New York Philharmonic’s
website). This latter was given in the presence of the composer.
The Bernstein performance is exactly what this music requires.
The other two works on the disk are of lesser value and importance,
but are no less enjoyable. Cantique d’Amour
is a richly-layered
piece, full of eastern promise and as erotic as you could wish.
The Concerto Grosso
is obviously neo-classical fun, and
it shows much less of the composer than do the other two works.
Whether or not you have the Bernstein recording of Icare
this disk is essential, as are the others in the series, for allowing
us to get to know a major composer of the early part of the last
century. Very good, clear, recording and excellent notes.