Igor Markevitch, Vol. 1 = Works by BEETHOVEN; HAYDN; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV; NIELSEN  – Doremi 

by | Jul 4, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Igor Markevitch, Vol. 1 = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21; HAYDN: Symphony No. 103 in E-flat Major “Drum Roll”; Symphony No. 104 in D Major “London”; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op. 35; NIELSEN: Symphony No. 4, Op. 29 “The Inextinguishable” – Erich Gruenberg, violin/ Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux, Paris/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Royal Danish Orchestra/ Igor Markevitch – Doremi DHR 8077/78 (2 CDs) 73:30; 75:20 (6/7/19) [www.doremi.com] *****:

Portrait Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven,
by Hornemann

Igor Markevitch (1912-1983) perpetually impresses me with the raw, energetic spontaneity of his interpretations, his command of a vast repertory that challenges his contemporaries, Mitropoulos and Maderna, in the sheer catholicism of his musical tastes. Doremi restores performances 1959-1965, that well capture the galvanic excitement and pristine clarity of the Markevitch experience in music he knows well with ensembles thoroughly sympathetic to his personal intensity. For instance, the opening Adagio molto of the Beethoven C Major Symphony – with its unconventional resolution of the dominant chord into the subdominant – has a most pointed sense of harmonic rhythm, and then it suddenly bursts full flower into the splendidly singing Allegro con brio that basks in the composer’s infectious interplay among strings, winds, and tympani. The ensuing Andante cantabile con moto enjoys a courtly grace that does not dawdle, while delivering a savory interplay among the strings and winds that maintain its elegant dance character. With the Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace the glove come off, and the rebellious nature of Beethoven’s fiery spirit challenges our complacency. The ensemble’s strings and tympani seem not just alert but electrically charged.   Markevitch gives us the big chord to open the Finale: Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace that climbs up the scale by degrees to erupt into the  octave statement of a theme and its wonderful interiors that have startled and delighted audiences and players alike ever since its premiere in 1800.

Portrait of Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn

Haydn always had a great allure for Markevitch, who made fine recordings for EMI of the late Salomon Symphonies 101 and 102.  The 1795 E-flat Major “Drum Roll,” the penultimate of Haydn’s symphony oeuvre, has the distinction of a complex Adagio, one that rivals the Mozart effort in the same key, K. 543.  Markevitch stretches the portentous, slow beginning, his emphasis on the thick, string bass line. Suddenly, light and aerial, the Allegro con spirito leaps out, built on two equally dazzling folk impulses. The drum roll indeed returns at the movement’s end, followed by a phrase from the introduction that now receives a rollicking fanfare.  The second movement, Andante piu tosto Allegretto testifies to Haydn’s supreme mastery in a double-theme and variations format.  The presence of Croatian folk song as a source of Haydn’s melodic invention has Markevitch’s rapt attention, since no opportunity for arioso, singing lines misses a beat in this etched performance. For the succeeding Austrian Menuet, or laendler, Markevitch has his horns in fine fettle, punctuating the rhythm and shifting dynamics with alert, mischievous glee. The last movement Allegro con spirito reveals a concision and unity of theme that only Beethoven will supersede in his Fifth Symphony. Wily mathematician that he is, Markevitch invests this tumultuous, protean phenomenon with any number of color and rhythmic, mesmeric transformations, as subtle as they prove infectious.

My own, preferred rendition of the London Symphony has been that by Hans Rosbaud from Berlin, but the majesty of the Markevitch conception quite sweeps me away.  The smooth transition from D minor to D Major carries with it a spiritual confidence that only gathers increased momentum as it proceeds, always defined by lush and exuberant color elements. The noble simplicity of the Andante movement requires no commentary.  The ardent middle section says much of the conductor’s natural ‘operatic’ capacity for drama. The Menuet exudes celestial pomp and rustic charm, at once. Another Croatian folk tune claims the source of the Allegro spirito finale, a monothematic tour de force that Markevitch manipulates with an inflamed, buoyant sense of elastic, whirlwind invention, sheer joy from the outset.

The 1914-1916 Fourth Symphony of Carl Nielsen, “The Inextinguishable,” which Markevitch recorded in 1965, contains just those primal, erotic, and driven elements that appeal to the conductor’s temperament. Nielsen, somewhat responding to the throes of WW I, wished to express “the elemental will to life. Music is Life.” The opening foray into sheer energy, in bitonal D and E, sets the tone of continuous upheaval, emotional surges and abrupt mood swings that call upon the momentous orchestral forces of winds, brass, and tympani, “life and motion, ever varied.” What exists as a lyrical motif Nielsen breaks into pulverized bits, and the dance impulse convulses into a mortal storm. Two clarinets attempt to soften the message, and they will reappear in movement three and the finale. Most fascinating, the short Allegretto offers a kind of woodwind idyll, supported by the strings.  Poco adagio quasi andante, the strings evolve to the third section, the music anxious and unsettled, marked by the timpani but assuming the character of a hymn. We note the demands made upon the conductor to retain some sense of continuity in the morass of shifting emotions. Huge counterpoints lead to a climactic moment which, when spent, allow strings, ppp, to trill while the oboe closes the impulse.

Dueling tympani literally define the last movement.  These fateful drums play in tritones, the very devil himself, in music. Exuberance and mania compete for pre-eminence in this monstrous surge of primitive energies, especially since the first movement tumult returns. If Nielsen seems to acquiesce, the temptation lasts only a moment, for the duel re-awakens, driving furious and bestial passages, grandly threatening emanations of the life-force. The cosmos moves fierce resolve to a triumphant affirmation, a kind of Scriabin-esque paroxysm of universal self-expression. The Danish orchestra under Markevitch has made a definitive statement in this reading.

Portrait Rimsky Korsakov

by Valentin Serov

Any realization of Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 orchestral spectacular Scheherazade must, perforce, compete with the classic recording by Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic. Beecham, more than Reiner or Dobrowen, reminded us that these tales of the Arabian Nights find their voice in the Sultana Scheherazade, and her feminine wiles and wisdom ought to invest even the most impassioned and violent of the scenes. Violin and harp must cooperate in the setting of wondrous magic and mystery. Vienna-born Erich Gruenberg (b. 1924), who had worked with Stokowski and Horenstein, contributes a brilliant, poetic, and nobly virtuosic solo to the voice of our narrator, who must beguile the Sultan Shahriar’s misogyny into admiration and love. By the time the violin and oboe have introduced “The Story of the Kalendar Prince” the spell has already been woven, and we listen, enthralled. The LSO must have adored Markevitch, for they play every note, raise each whirling dervish of melody, into a lustrous epic. It would be futile ego to set to words what Markevitch had wrought with Rimsky-Korsakov’s enchanting score.  Deeply felt and deeply recommended, this amazing tribute to a colossal musical personality, whom Bartok himself credited with supplying him limitless insight.

—Gary Lemco





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