BEETHOVEN: Seven Overtures – Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/ Igor Markevitch
IDI 6580, 55:35 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
Drama and lyricism have rarely found such a spellbinding consolidation in conducting as in the work of Igor Markevitch (1912-1983), the Ukrainian, Italian, and French composer and performer whom Paris once hailed as “the second Igor,” the first having been Stravinsky. A master of orchestral balance and instrumental weight, Markevitch could take wonderfully speedy tempos, driving his chosen ensemble to the brink of technical excellence.
These studio inscriptions from Paris 1958 capture Markevitch in excellent form in the music of Beethoven, a composer he cherished–along with Mozart–for the earthy drive, sweep, and impulsiveness of his temperament. The collaboration between pianist Clara Haskil and Igor Markevitch in Beethoven’s C Minor Concerto on Philips still ranks as among the most perfect of their long association. Markevitch opens with the 1807 Coriolan Overture in C Minor, Op. 62–after a Roman drama by Collin–fraught with powerful declamations of honor and duty, the conciliatory theme set in the relative E-flat Major. Markevitch whips the Lamoureux ensemble in several frenzies in the course of its sonata-form development.
The sheet girth of the Leonore Overture No. 3 in C proves weighty enough to encapsulate much of Beethoven’s whole opera Fidelio. Only Florestan and the Minister of Justice–the famous fanfare–make an appearance in the overture’s materials, but the real subject of this symphonic poem, justice, informs every triumphant bar. Again, Markevitch leads a thoroughly architectural performance until the final pages, when all creation bursts forth in sympathy with the urge to freedom, Beethoven’s eternal battle-cry. The 1814 Fidelio Overture gains much by Markevitch’s dreamy approach to the lyrical materials after the opening unison Allegro, with its horn and wind figures. The Lamoureux brass and tympani furnish several potent riffs, the strings jabbing and dancing at the motto theme. Typically, Markevitch imposes an inner pulsation that urges us to a peroration of exquisite power and beauty.
The 1822 Overture to the Consecration of the House, Op. 124 stands imperially as the culmination of Beethoven’s exercises in overture–and fugal–form. Its opening section alone celebrates much in both Handel and Haydn, until a fanfare for trumpets, bassoon, and tympani sets off a rhythmic flurry of six-beat tattoos that permeates the entire course of its development, including single and double counterpoint, sources of ever-renewable energy in Beethoven’s hands. That the sonata-allegro form can accommodate such searing intensity of expression marks a tribute to Classical procedure in itself, but the whole aural concept remains a miracle of sound that Markevitch relishes. As a collector, I still await the reissue of the Jochum/Concertgebouw inscription that appeared on Epic Records some forty-five years ago. But Markevitch will do very nicely, thank you.
Beethoven’s C Major Overture, Op. 115 (1814) for the Kaiser’s “Name Day” contains elements that Beethoven sought for his Ode to Joy movement for the Ninth Symphony. In several respects, it incorporates and transcends formulas in Mozart and Rossini, though the pretext of ceremony and bombast do little to inspire Beethoven melodically. The 6/8 figures romp a bit, and the dolce G Major theme has its affect, but for the most part the writing never achieves that mysterious passion that informs the best of Beethoven, and even Markevitch’s committed reading cannot raise it to Heaven. Finally, IDI gives us the first transfer of the Markevitch 1810 Egmont Overture, Op. 84, after Schiller‘s melodrama. The F Minor ethos has rarely sounded so dire, a true sense of oppression and despair, Count Egmont having been beheaded in 1568 by the Duke of Alba. Markevitch exerts as much rage as he does passion, the colossal Mannheim rockets threatening to tear at the fabric of the strings and horns. The angst and internal conflict evolve to the inevitable Victory Symphony finale, a hard-won, whirlwind resolution worthy of all its principals, a fine testament to Markevitch as a major Beethoven disciple.
— Gary Lemco