Igor MARKEVITCH (1912-1983) and Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Musical Offering (1747) (arr. three orchestral groups and solo quartet (1949-50)) [51:58]
Rémy Baudet (violin); Hans van Loenen (wooden transverse flute); Jeroen Reuling (cello); Dirk Luijmes (harpsichord)
Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. Musis Sacrum, Arnhem, April 1997. DDD
NAXOS 8.572158 [51.58]
This is the eighth and final volume in Naxos's Complete Orchestral Works of Igor Markevitch. It is in fact a re-release of Marco Polo 8.225120, which was labelled, somewhat confusingly, volume 7. The Naxos series began in 2008 with a volume of newly 'discovered', relatively early works, after which all other discs have been re-releases of the earlier Marco Polo series - meaning that Naxos volume 2 was the same as Marco Polo Volume 1, Naxos volume 3 the same as Marco Polo volume 2, and so on.
Naxos volume 1 is reviewed here, 2 and 3 here (as Marco Polo 1 and 2 alongside Marco Polo 3), Naxos 4 and 5 here, volume 6 here, and volume 7 here (as Marco Polo 6). This final release has already been reviewed here, with plenty of historical and technical description, so the review below focuses primarily on the music.
To reassure those fearing otherwise, Markevitch's Musical Offering is not a Stokowski-style orchestration/lushification exercise, although the opening Ricercar does start the work off in that direction. But Markevitch proves to be more sensitive.
Whether or not there is any real musical point to his reworking of Bach is a moot point - on balance probably not. Nevertheless, Markevitch was fond of this work, conducting it himself on several occasions - something he did not do with his original music! And there is no doubting the intelligence of Markevitch's reshuffling and tweaking of Bach's ten original Canons into a kind of symphonic arch, now entitled 'Theme and Variations' - nor the stroke of brilliance provided by the appearance of first the oboe, then the cor anglais and bassoon in 'Variations' V and VI.
The trio Sonata section is less successful - not in itself, but in the context of an otherwise orchestral arrangement, the chamber forces of the Sonata - almost pure Bach - seem out of place. In his notes Lyndon-Gee argues that the participation of orchestral strings in the Sonata - to amplify the solo violin - "cleverly integrates" this section into the composition as a whole. But the strings are so discreet, the harpsichord so obviously Baroque, that the Sonata sounds more like a separate piece. Still a very attractive one, though.
The orchestra returns for the final Ricercar, which Markevitch labels Fuga. Using mainly strings, he makes of this beautiful, enigmatic fugue a rich, dark, but ultimately uplifting finale. Overall, it is Bach's, not Markevitch's, genius that illuminates this Musical Offering - but probably that was what Markevitch expected and wanted.
The liner-notes, which include an extended essay on Markevitch and his music, a detailed chronology of Markevitch's life, and, for CD notes, a thorough discussion of Bach's original work and what Markevitch does with it, have all been updated and expanded from the Marco Polo original. It is a pity that many people will still require a magnifying glass to read the tiny, dense print!
Lyndon-Gee and the Arnhem Philharmonic, with the soloists drawn from its ranks, give another sterling performance. The sound quality is not the greatest. It is clear, certainly, and communicates the intentions of Markevitch's stereophonic arrangement of instrumental forces on stage. However, resonance and background rumble are more than evident in the quieter sections of the opening Ricercar and the Theme and Variations. The Sonata is far better recorded - presumably the microphones are closer to the performers and therefore pick up much less background noise.
Markevitch's Musical Offering is not a Stokowski-style lushification; Markevitch proves to be more sensitive.