Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Igor Markevitch, Forgotten 20th Century Composer

If you are between ages 11 and 60-something, you know the 20th century almost exclusively from the last half, and perhaps not all of it. So if you know the name Igor Markevitch (1912-1983), it's probably as a conductor. Yet between 1929-1943, he was considered one of the most advanced and formidable European composers.

He gave up all composing activity after this period. Both he and the musical world passively or actively let his body of works slide into oblivion. Only now, thanks in part to Naxos' thus far three-volume survey of his orchestral works, can we listen again to his music. And that is what I have been doing, namely the third volume of his Complete Orchestral Works, performed with respectable verve and panache by the Arnheim Philharmonic under Christopher Lyndon-Gee.

Incredibly the three works in this volume, Cantique d'Amour, L'Envol d'Icare, and Concerto Grosso have never been commercially recorded before.

A close listen to this volume reveals a major stylist, a modernist with his own palette of orchestral color, an inventive craftsman of ambitiously dramatic works.

His is a music less manic than early Prokofiev, more somber and dark than Stravinsky, less cellular-motival than Varese. It is the music of Markevitch! Naxos does us all a service with this series. No serious student of the music of pre-World War II Europe can afford to ignore this release. It's revelatory. Now I need to hear the first two volumes!!

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