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CLASSICAL  November 2007

CLASSICAL November 2007

Subject:

Music by Markevitch

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 15 Nov 2007 11:35:09 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (87 lines)

Igor Markevitch
Complete Orchestral Music, Vol. 5

*  La Taille de l' Homme

Lucy Shelton, soprano
Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
Marco Polo 8.225054 Total time: 57:01

Summary for the Busy Executive: Half a loaf.

Igor Markevitch had one of the most bizarre and, in my opinion, tragic
careers in music.  He jumped into the Paris musical scene with works so
bold and so original, most praised him as a second Stravinsky, and he
was still a teen. The joke ran that he was Prince Igor to Stravinsky's
King Igor.  He won the praise of both Nadia Boulanger, the Athena of
Modern music, and Bartok.  Indeed, Bartok cited Markevitch as an influence.
However, in 1942, at the age of thirty, after an illness, Markevitch
stopped composing altogether.  He spent much of World War II fighting
with Italian partisans.  He emerged postwar as a full-time conductor,
admired for his interpretations of the Russians (especially Tchaikovsky)
and of the Moderns.  Unlike most conductors who composed -- Furtwaengler,
Szell, Klemperer, Maazel, for example -- Markevitch was primarily a
composer who conducted, although he did both at the highest level.  As
much as I admire Szell's conducting, I can't call his compositions (the
few I've heard) all that necessary to anyone's listening life, and the
same goes for the others I've mentioned.  But Markevitch's music, like
that of Bernstein and Boulez, strongly claims one's attention.  Markevitch
declined to conduct his own music (unlike either Boulez or Bernstein),
believing that other works deserved a hearing more than his, and thus
denied his composing self a venue and a persuasive champion.  Marco Polo
has come out with a series of recordings conducted by Christopher
Lyndon-Gee.  It's a series long overdue.  I believe they're up to volume
seven, although you'd be hard-pressed to find anything beyond volume
five in the U.S.

Markevitch once remarked that not only does the composer play with time,
time plays with the composer.  Previously obscure work suddenly comes
to notice, and listeners wonder how it could have been lost.  Perhaps
Markevitch referred to hopes for his own strikingly original work.  One
can see the influence of Stravinsky, particularly of the master ballets
Apollo and Orpheus, but also more grit, a tendency to work with extremes
of tenderness and vigor.  Markevitch, like Honegger and Milhaud, has
taken some of the "deep structure" of Stravinsky and forged something
of his own.  Stravinsky himself started out hostile to the younger man's
music, but finally came around.

La Taille de l' Homme (roughly, the human dimension) comes from 1939,
and thus near the end of Markevitch's composing life.  An odd work,
it began in the composer's mind as a evening-length chamber cantata,
with elements of song, chamber music (including, at one point, plans
for a string quartet), and chamber concerto.  Markevitch completed the
first part and the war intervened.  After the war, Markevitch asked his
librettist, C.  F.  Ramuz, who had supplied the story for Stravinsky's
L' Histoire du Soldat, for the second part, but the poet had gone into
a funk and off the boil (he died in 1947).  Consequently, you may sometimes
see this work listed as "first part," but don't waste your time looking
for the second.  It languished unplayed for decades.  Markevitch himself
went without hearing this work until a few years before his death when
somebody enterprising got up a festival of his compositions.  The libretto,
as far as I'm concerned, huffs and puffs grand sentiments about the human
condition with all the insight of a high-school senior.  Maybe it's
better in French.  At any rate, it inspired some white-hot music.  The
forces are chamber-size, although Lyndon-Gee unfortunately augments the
strings in some movements.  This puts a kind of down comforter around
the music, distancing it from Markevitch's conception.  The music itself
stresses extreme independence of parts -- rhythms, colors, themes, and
so on.  It's as if musicians in different parts of town jammed telepathically
and everything fit together.  Markevitch emphasizes instrumental contrast
rather than blend so that this independence comes out.  Lyndon-Gee hasn't
ruined things irrevocably, but he does undermine the composer --
particularly regrettable since this is the first recording.

The performance is better than okay, but not spectacular.  Lucy Shelton
sings with a mouthful of hot mush.  With the text in front of you, you
will have a tough time identifying the language as French, let alone
following along as she sings.  If Lyndon-Gee spends more time with the
score, he surely will find clearer shapes and longer paragraphs.  The
sound is pretty good.

Steve Schwartz

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