This disk contains all that was completed from an evening-long
work Markevitch imagined towards the end of his composing career.
What we have is an imposing edifice, a suite, if you like, in
six movements, four of them containing a solo part for soprano
voice and all of them highlighting a solo instrument from the
orchestra - wind, brass and strings. The language is Stravinskian
neo-classical, but, as always with Markevitch, the music does
not sound like any other composer. The text is by Charles-Ferdinand
Ramuz, who supplied the text for Stravinsky’s Soldier’s
Tale, and, according to Lyndon-Gee’s note in the booklet,
“…is a tightly woven text whose wealth of images
emphasize the stark, dispassionate neutrality of man’s
situation within the universe, contrasting his essential helplessness
with the incomprehensible vastness of the terrestrial and cosmic
environments.” Wow! That’s some scheme, as Yossarian
might have said!
The opening prelude, which plays for a quarter of the
full playing time, is of a brooding intensity, dark, sombre
and very impressive - this could stand as a tone poem on its
own merits. What follows doesn’t quite, for me, live up
to the promise of this music. The second movement is generally
fast, and is named Ornamented Chorale. There follow four
pieces called Sonata. The first is basic note-spinning
for a group of solo instruments. This is the weakest section
and exemplifies neo-classicism at its least interesting. It’s
vacuous, says nothing, and adds nothing to the overall work.
Sonata 2 is another vocal movement, graced with some
delightful woodwind ornamentation. A scherzo follows and the
work ends with a short movement which incorporates a piano cadenza.
Taken as a whole, the work clearly isn’t up to the very
high standards set by other works of this very interesting composer.
There simply isn’t the invention of such works as Rébus
(1931) (available on Naxos 8.572154)
or L’envol d’Icare (1933) (Naxos
8.572153). Markevitch seems to be going through the compositional
motions too often and doesn’t seem to be engaged with
his material. Of course, I am grateful to have anything by Markevitch
made available but this isn’t a piece which would make
me want to return to it, except for the astonishing prelude
which is in a different class to the rest of the piece.
As with the other issues of Markevitch’s music - all of
which first appeared on Marco
Polo - Christopher Lyndon-Gee and his Arnhem Philharmonic
give strong performances, and as before, prove themselves to
be devoted advocates of the composer’s work. However,
a stumbling block for me is Lucy Shelton’s use of a fast
vibrato on almost every note. This grates on the ear and quickly
becomes tiresome. The sound is very good and the notes fascinating.
If you’ve got the other issues in this Markevitch series
you’ll want this one, but it’s more for the sake
of completeness than for its own sake.