Replay

Les introuvables d'Igor Markevitch Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise (Recorded: 1955-1957) (EMI Classics 5 69212 2; four discs)

There can be no question that these attentive and often highly original performances are products of a fertile musical mind. As it happens, Igor Markevitch's own creative talents (a small but significant oeuvre still awaits due recognition) enrich this particular miscellany with an ingenious orchestration of A Musical Offering. Bach a la Markevitch is full-bodied in the two "Ricercare", dynamic in the canons and cunningly supportive of the leading lines in the "Sonata a 3".

Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony - a mono precursor of a more familiar stereo LSO recording for Philips - features a plethora of dynamic adjustments and tempo changes, most of them effective, whereas Strauss's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is perky, outspoken and not a little roughshod (subtlety was not this orchestra's leading virtue). There's a Haydn Clock Symphony that runs seriously fast in the Andante, a stylish Symphony No 102 and a hasty Mendelssohn Italian. Schubert's Unfinished is conventionally dramatic, Rossini overtures have more character than finesse and Shostakovich's F minor Symphony - a fine and famous performance - is very much on line with the novel, precocious and revolutionary statements that Markevitch himself penned during the 1930s and 1940s. The rugged demeanour of these recordings suggests a largely unchecked (though not unwarranted) interpretative enthusiasm.

Early music? Chronologically, perhaps - but stylistically? Try track four, Battalia, where "The dissolute revelling of musketeers" precedes "a march, the battle, and lamento of the wounded, imitated with airs and dedicated to Bacchus". I'd guess that Bacchus himself played no little part in this particular realisation, where, according to Biber's precise instructions, "one must strike the violin with the bow" before eight drunken musketeers converge with such dissonant confusion that even Charles Ives would have winced. The resonant thunder of big drums is achieved by placing paper behind the lower strings; there's pizzicato "snapping" for musket- fire and a mournful lament to close. And when the battle's over, you find yourself questioning whether this ear-splitting cacophony really was what Biber intended - and if so, why didn't any of the Baroque's "big names" follow his lead? The rest of the disc restores relative calm: there's a brassy "Sonata a 7" (the "old" theme-tune for Classic FM's Classic Reports), a "Ballettae" dance sequence and a weird "Peasant's Church Procession" that comes and goes in humble unison. As to the performances, I very much doubt that even the Archbishop of Olomouc's "famous virtuoso orchestra" (the "group" for whom these selections were composed) sounded more convincing. The recordings are extraordinarily dynamic.

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