Igor MARKEVITCH (1912 - 1983)
Complete Orchestral Works - Volume 6
La Taille de l'Homme (The Measure of Man) (1938/1939) [55:30]
Lucy Shelton (soprano)
Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestraw/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. 23-26 June 1997, Musis Sacrum, Arnhem, The Netherlands. DDD
re-issue of Marco Polo 8.225054
NAXOS 8.572156 [55:30]
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.
I am grateful to have anything by Markevitch made available.