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Posted February 15, 2011
Igor Markevitch became an instant name as a composer in the late 1920s, when he was only in his mid-teens. By the mid-1940s, Markevitch essentially quit composing to focus on his appreciable talent as a conductor. Markevitch was born in Kiev, July 1912, the son of the pianist Boris Markevitch, who had been a pupil of Eugene d'Albert. In 1914 the family moved to Paris, where he continued studies with his father, also a brilliant pianist. Markevitch had made his debut as a conductor in 1933 and, in 1944, the British occupation forces asked Markevitch to reorganize the orchestra in Florence and the Maggio Fiorentino. Markevitch ended up in similar positions in Stockholm, Paris, Montreal, Madrid, Monte Carlo and Rome, and he held conducting seminars or courses in Salzburg, Mexico, Moscow, Madrid, Monte Carlo and Weimar. Markevitch recorded a complete cycle of Tchaikovsky symphonies with the LSO for Philips between 1962 and 1966. Time and marketing allowed both the Karajan and Haitink sets to become better known. Now they have arrived in this four-CD boxed set, on Newton Classics and have been brilliantly remastered. The layout on four discs means that Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 are centrally divided (between movements), but that does not bother me and should be no issue for anyone want a clean, crisp and very authentic sounding set. These performances rival the best I have ever heard and in certain instances I do prefer the Markevitch. He does take a brighter clip in the 1st Symphony than Karajan (or an old DGG of Tilsson-Thomas I have) and his "Little Russian" has a drive to it especially in the finale that elevates the work, sometimes done too measured. The Symphony #3 also has a drive to the opening but Markevitch brings out the Polish folk elements in the inner two movements wonderfully and sympathetically. His Symphony #4, which has always been my favorite, has a pulse to the 9/8 opening that brings great excitement and his finale is an almost ideal tempo, exiliriating but not to the extremes of the Solti Chicago recording, for example. Markevitch's #5 is a similarly fine experience, maybe a little slower in spots than I have heard, but intense and enjoyable. Lastly, the "Pathetique" is truly passionate with plenty of drive in the opening movement and closing with deep emotion but not an excess of 'pathos'. Throughout, the London Symphony's playing is wonderful and responsive to the conductor's vision. This is a terrific reissue of an important set of performances and Newton represents both wonderful re-engineering and a bargain price. Highly recommended!
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