Notes and Editorial Reviews
Igor Markevitch was a remarkable conductor: stylish, unsentimental, and a true "servant of the score" as befits a composer with his particular leanings. He was marvelous in music of the classical period and always could be counted on to highlight the "classical" side of Romantic composers such as Brahms (and even Tchaikovsky) to excellent effect. He's also proof of Mahler's dictum that "there are no bad orchestras, only bad conductors." The recordings in this set, ranging in date from the early 1950s to the early '60s, encompass an international coterie of bands, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Lamoureux Orchestra, the Symphony of the Air, and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra--and yet the results are amazingly consistent in matters of ensemble balance, rhythmic accuracy, and discipline.
The Markevitch recordings of classical masters included here (Mozart Symphonies Nos. 34, 35, and 38; Haydn's Sinfonia concertante; Gluck's Sinfonia in G; Cimarosa's Concerto for 2 flutes in G; Schubert's Symphony No. 3; and Beethoven's Symphonies Nos. 3 and 6 along with a generous selection of overtures) anticipate the "period-instrument" movement in their generally swift tempos, generous treatment of winds and brass, and rhythmic vitality. His Brahms (Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4; Tragic Overture; Alto Rhapsody) is no less impressive. Indeed, this Fourth Symphony (with the Lamoureux Orchestra) is one of the finest recordings of the piece, and it will come as a revelation to those who believe that a dark, "German" sound in this music is its only appropriate idiom.
The Wagner selections--from Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, and Die Walküre, along with the Siegfried-Idyll--interestingly contrast the Berlin Philharmonic with the Lamoureux Orchestra, to the distinct advantage of the latter. But then, French Wagner in general is one of classical music's best-kept secrets. Markevitch's Debussy La Mer is justly celebrated, his Danses Sacrée et Profane remains the best ever, while Gounod's Second Symphony and Bizet's Jeux d'enfants sound predictably delicious. The early (1953) Tchaikovsky Sixth with the Berlin Philharmonic must yield to Markevitch's Philips remake with the LSO in stereo, but the Lamoureux Francesca da Rimini is simply sensationally exciting. Kodály's Psalmus Hungaricus, recorded in Russia of all places, is surprisingly tangy and heartfelt, if not the best in town.
In short, Markevitch's career was a tribute to the idea that great music crosses all barriers, and that great orchestras should be able to play it no matter what their national pedigree. This set certainly supports that contention. It's not all equally fabulous (that Pastorale Symphony falls a bit flat), and some of the mono recordings sound comparatively dim, but in the final analysis Markevitch's remarkable consistency carries the day, just as his catholicity of repertoire remains a continuing source of wonder and joy.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com