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Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, August 2010

Although commissioned, and written as such, as a ballet, Rébus [MARKEVITCH Complete Orchestral Works Vol 4 - 8.572154] never seems to have been danced! It doesn’t matter for it makes a splendid six movement orchestral suite. Because of the ballet element there is, perhaps, more thematic interweaving than one might normally get in an orchestral suite, but this only aids the listener when listening to it for the first time. It’s a more difficult piece than L’envol d’Icare [MARKEVITCH Complete Orchestral Works Vol 3 - Cantique d'Amour, L'Envol d'Icare, Concerto Grosso 8.572153], which was written two years later, but here the composer is coming to terms with a neo-classical style, which, perhaps, doesn’t sit too comfortably on his young shoulders. That said, it’s a fine piece of work, with each movement clearly and distinctly characterised with spiky orchestration and a sense of fun. It might be that there is just a little too much insistence on repetitive rhythms—the final Parade is almost too much to bear in its continued sameness, but as he had dance in mind when composing there is probably a really good reason for this.

The Hymnes [MARKEVITCH Complete Orchestral Works Vol 4 - 8.572154] consist of a Prelude and three Hymns with the Hymne à la Mort added later, and being a version of the last of the Trois Poèmes for voice and piano of 1935. According to the notes, as late as 1980 Markevitch was making small changes to the score—surely this proves that he never lost sight of his musical roots as a composer. This performance uses the original score as Lyndon-Gee sees the later edition as “…crude, and by no means tonally more effective than the original.” This is a much more serious work than Rébus, and it’s hard to believe that it was written only a year later, so great is the assurance of the composer in his use of material and of the orchestra, when compared to the earlier piece. The second Hymn is especially elegant, starting as a clarinet solo, over sustained strings, and developing into a duet with flute. This is quite beautiful. The following movement is full of rhythmic interplay, and it’s very exciting and freely tonal, but Markevitch spoils what he has written by putting two loud common chords at the end, which are totally out of place with the rest of the music. The final Hymne à la Mort is very slow and packed with atmosphere, the music quietly making its weary way to its conclusion, ending with the stroke of a bell.

Lorenzo il Magnifico [MARKEVITCH Complete Orchestral Music Vol 5 - Lorenzo il Magnifico, Psaume] was Markevitch’s penultimate work—only the Variations, Fugue and Envoi on a Theme of Handel, for piano, remained to be written. Subtitled Sinfonia Concertante, this is a huge work, conceived in the broadest terms, and scored for a large orchestra. Four vocal movements surround a central orchestral meditation, which comes as something of a relief after much high-powered singing—both the music itself and the delivery.

With Psaume [MARKEVITCH complete Orchestral Music Vol 5 - Lorenzo il Magnifico, Psaume] we are back to the driven, slightly unsubtle, music heard in Rébus. There’s a rather mystical feel to this music but, at the same time, there’s a playfulness and a joy, perhaps in simply living...The orchestra is first rate, the notes very good and the sound clear and bright. If you’re still wondering whether or not to investigate this fascinating composer I recommend you start with Volume 3. If you’re already hooked then these are very exciting and rewarding issues.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

Rebus is a masterwork of the 20th century, its neglect indicative of the public’s lack of knowledge of the composer, Igor Markevitch. It had been commissioned by the famous choreographer, Leonid Massine, but it was never performed as such, its premiere given in 1931 as a concert work. The name is derived from a once popular word-game, its five movements explained in the disc’s enclosed programme notes together with the meaning and the relevance of the named movements. It has Prokofiev as its precursor, with a smattering of Poulenc, and a nodding acquaintance with Auric. Insistent rhythms drive the music forward, the colours unusual, and at times extremely difficult for an orchestra to put together. Yet it’s neglect is as much due to the composer who suffered a severe and never understood illness, and on his recovery in the late 1940’s he moved to a life as a touring conductor and renounced the success that his works had enjoyed. He did however change the fourth part of Hymnes shortly before his death in 1983 so as to incorporate a previously composed Hymne a la Mort. It was a rather bizarre experiment in wordless Hymns, and whether it works in that respect is questionable, though as a piece of music it is easy to like, the Hymne a la Mort a quite disturbing score. I have heard Rebus in a live concert by a famous name orchestra since this 1966 recording and it was just as much of a struggle as the Arnhem orchestra find. Hymnes is a little easier and they make out a very good case for further listening. Reliable sound quality, the disc being a reissue of a Marco Polo release.

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