A great conductor, but not always shown off at his best
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 03/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am as great an admirer of Igor Markevitch as the reviewers below who rhapsodize over this bargain 9-CD set from DG. But in truth there are few truly great performances contained here, the best of Markevitch's large output being readily available on DG, Philips, EMI, and Testament. He had the misfortune to suffer hearing loss at the end of his career and also to be associated too often with inferoir ensembles like the Lamouruex orchestra of Paris, caught here in rather awful, wiry sonics that DG has not remastered. So despite the general elation, I think it's worth examining these 9 CDs one by one. (I am adding short comments to the list prepared by a reviewer below.)
CD 1: Mozart 34th and 38th Symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic (BP) from 1954, and Mozart's 35th Symphony (1957) and Gluck's Sinfonia in G Major (1958) with the Orchestre Lamoureux, Paris (OLP). MONO except for the Gluck This is one of the best discs in the colleciton, featuring Markevitch's alert, lean, often rapid Mozart, played with great refinement by the Berliners. The sound is very good for the time, despite the expected edginess in the violins.
CD 2: Haydn Sinfonia Concertante (OLP, 1957), Cimarosa's Concerto for Two Flutes with flutists Aurele Nicolet and Fritz Demmler (BP, 1954) and Schubert's 3rd Symphony (BP, 1954). MONO Unless you are a fan of spiky French instrumentalists, the elegant Haydn performance sounds cramped and sharp-edged. The much more minor Cimarosa is far better played. The Schubert Third gets the best sound by far. I'm not taken with Markevitch's clipped phrasing and lack of affection throughout, but it's a vigorous, committed performance.
CD 3 and 4: All Beethoven, with the exception of an insightful 15-minute, 1957 interview with Markveitch. Here we get Leonore III Overture (OLP, 1958), Symphony #3 'Eroica' (Symphony of the Air, 1956-57), Symphony #6 'Pastorale' (OLP, 1957), and the Coriolan, Fidelio, Name Day and Consecration of the House Overtures (all OLP, 1958). STEREO except for Sym. #3 All the overtures from the Lamoureux forces are thin and spiky, far from the usual Beethoven style. Fans may appreciate Markevitch's Russian-Gallic temperament here; I'm not so sure. The Eroica from Berlin is much better sounding, although the mono recording is boxy and somewhat muffled--in all his Beethoven Markevitch prefers fast tempi and sharp angles. Surprisingly, the Pastrole is in a different vein--warm and relaxed, with tempos often as slow as Klemperer's. But the Lamoureux orchestra's technical abilities are quite underwhelming, and I can't find a compelling reason to listen to the performance except in patches.
CD 5: Brahms Symphony #1 with the Symphony of the Air (1956), Alto Rhapsody (with Irina Arkhipova and the Russian State Academy Choir), Tragic Overture with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra (both 1963). STEREO For the first time since CD 1 we get a compelling sense of Markevitch's stature. The Brahms First with Toscanini's (remaned) orchestra is fully the equal of anyone's--huge, heroic, and wonderfully played. The Russian performance of the Alto Rhapsody features the great Arkhipova, and for once the Soviet sonics are good. The Tragic Overture, dating from after Markevitch's decline in hearing (1963), seems a bit undernourished and is in dim, distant sound, but it casts a spell nonetheless.
CD 6: Brahms 4th Symphony (OLP, 1958), Kodaly Psalmus Hungaricus with tenor Robert Ilosfalvy (RSA Choir & USSR SSO, 1963). STEREO The Brahms Fourth is a very good performance in the lean, propulsive Toscanini style. I don't fancy the scrappy playing of the Lamoureux orchestra, especially the coarse brass blatting away in the finale--other conductors like Szell have done better in this vein--but in its punchy, rough-and-ready way Markevitch's Brahms Fourth commands attention. We are in a differetn world with the Kodaly, however, which gets a stunning performance, and the brutish playing by the Russian orchestra really works.
CD 7: Orchestral music of Wagner--Preludes to Acts I and III of Lohengrin, Tannhauser Overture (all OLP, 1958), and Venusberg Music from Tannhauser, Siegfired Idyll and Ride of the Valkyries (all BP, 1954). MONO The Berlin Phil. doesn't sound like the world-class orchestra it would become once again under Karajan, but these excerpts are well played and recorded for their time. Markevitch was a modernist in Wagner, favoring fast tempos and eschewing expressive profundities. The music can take it, but one is always aware that something deeper is necessary. An odd-man-out disc but enjoyable.
CD 8: French fare with Gounod's 2nd Symphony and Bizet's Jeux d'enfants (both OLP, 1957), and Debussy's La Mer and Deux Danses (both OLP, 1959). MONO except for the Debussy These Lamoureux readings are Gallic to the core, of course, and thoroughly delightful. Everything that sounds wrong in Beethoven works perfectly here. The mono sound, however, is edgy and shrill at loud volume. Things improve for the Debussy--La Mer, a Markevitch showpiece, gets an alert, quicksilver performance with many individual otuches in phrasing. It comes closest to being great of anything in the whole ocllection.
CD 9: Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony (BP, 1953) and Francesca da Rimini (OLP, 1959). MONO and STEREO respectively. The colleciton ends on a high note, since Markevitch was arguably the greatest Tchaikovsky conductor after Mravinsky. The mono sound for the Berliners is good for its era. This is a neurotic, anguished Pathetique of the kind we rarely hear today. Likewise the Francsca da Rimini, where the Lamoureux's shrill, thin woodwinds seem to add to the effect.
In sum, the half-dozen superior performances stand out fairly obviously, and all are worthwhile for any listener. Frankly, the rest belongs in the realm of specialty collecting, although naturally others may strongly disagree, especially anyone who likes the Lamoureux orchestra much better than I do.
"Of all the nine, really adorable, boxed sets by DG it was this one that I hastened to grab since Markevitch's interpretations had always been to my liking.
To be more honest, it was his Lamoureux recordings that I was after. In these recordings, it is the wind sound that dominates, and especially the brass section. For this reason, his Damnation and his Mozart Coronation had always been my favourites.
The present box contains a splendid Brahms 4th with a Chaconne, at the end that really moved me with its intensity (Markevitch slows quite a lot in the middle section to allow his woodwinds express themselves and this pronounces much more the forceful brass-dominated outer sections).
By the way, this set gives quite an idea of Markevitch's popularity at the time (recordings in the US with Toscanini's NBC Orchestra - renamed Symphony of the Air, recordings in Moscow with Brahms and Kodaly plus the 2 great European orchestras: the Lamoureux and the Berliners - some years before Karajan's arrival)."
"Since I heard once on vynil the incredible apssionate and to me the greatest veriosn ever made of the First Symphony of Johannes Brahms ever made . And believe me , I love this symphony and I have heard at least one hundred versions : with Furtwangler , Toscanini superb performance of the forties , Istvan Kertsez , Kubelik Chicago , Munch , and a long etc . But the inner mood and the clear but cleverly established sequence of the right tone and the use of the concise tempo in every phrase make of that version unique and unrepeteable . I know about the Mozart Symphonies with the Berlin Philarmonic that still in those ages sounded with the furtwanglerain mood . They are sublime . But consider once more that only with this Brahms Symphony, all the rest of the set you may consider a special buy , a worthable and fundamental bonus. Igor Markevitch was a conductor unfairly neglected . Watch this CD because it will let you astonished and will prove by itself all the virtues of that master conductor ."
John H. Borders | Louisville, KY United States | 06/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Markevitch was, once, part of Diaghilev's "Ballets Russe"'s ensemble, and understood Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and other Russian composers (and their intents) very-well, and very-dynamically. His Philips' recordings (1970) of Tchaikovsky symphonies (plus other works) are still, some of the best, integral cycles-of-interpretations to be had, and his expertise was not bounded-by Russian works - his (Berlioz) Damnation of Faust, among other interpretations - are some of the best that discipline can devise. A MARVELOUS conductor, as was the (also) Russian-born, Jascha Horenstein. ... Horenstein, Markevitch, & Sixten Ehrling were some of the BEST of the post-War (including some pre-War recordings) era, and very-much of ANY recordings of them are much worth-having ... including the present, DG set."