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Igor Markevitch

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This CD is a fascinating document of an entire concert presented in East Berlin at the Deutsche Staatsoper on 13 February 1970, affording the opportunity to hear Igor Markevitch conducting German and French repertoire. He clearly had a natural affinity with this music, a pointillistically detailed style and he was a true servant of the score as befits a composer with his particular leanings.

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IGOR MARKEVITCH conducts Beethoven, Debussy and Ravel

1-4. Beethoven: Symphony No.7 in A Major, Op.92 [35:34]
I. Poco sostenuto – Vivace [12:48]
II. Allegretto [08:22]
III. Presto [07:21]
IV. Allegro con brio [07:01]

5-7. Debussy: La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre [23:54]
I. De l’aube à midi sur la mer [08:57]
II. Jeux de vagues [07:03]
III. Dialogue du vent et de la mer [07:53]

8. Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé [15:33]

Staatskapelle Berlin
Igor Markevitch ∙ conductor

Recorded ∙ 13 February 1970 ∙ East Berlin ∙ Deutsche Staatsoper ∙ Rundfunk der DDR ∙ Live Recording

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Igor Markevitch was born July 19, 1912, in his family’s manor in Kiev. He was grandnephew of Andrei Nicolaievitch Markevitch, an amateur cellist and director of the Russian Musical Society and son of pianist Boris Markevitch, who had been a pupil of Raoul Pugno and Eugen d’Albert and Zoia Pokitonova. His brother Dimitry Markevitch (1923-2002) was a noted musicologist and cellist.

In 1914 the family moved to Paris, settling two years later in La Tour-de-Peilz (Vevey), Switzerland, which was to be Igor’s home for the next decade. He studied first with his father, after whose death, in 1923, he took lessons from Paul Loyonnet. Markevitch’s first breakthrough came in 1925, when Alfred Cortot heard him play his piano suite Noces, and the next year Markevitch entered the École Normale de Musique, in Paris, to study piano with Cortot and harmony, counterpoint and composition with Nadia Boulanger, foster-mother of so many youthful prodigies. After two weeks, she excused him from classes in harmony, with words of praise for his natural science with chords and figurations. He worked at counterpoint and orchestration and was out of his indentures, when Diaghilev came, discovered Markevitch, commissioned him to write a piano-concerto and a ballet. The source of the ballet was to be Andersen’s tale of the king so finely dressed that to all Intents and purposes he appeared an unintentional nudist. In August 1929, Diaghilev, aged fifty-seven, left his latest protégé, the sixteen-year-old Markevitch, in Munich, where the two had attended a performance of Tristan, and returned to Venice to the Grand Hotel des Bains. But Diaghilev died in the summer of 1929, and the project died with him. Diaghilev himself wrote about Markevitch: “I like his music, because I hear it the quickening of a new generation which militates against the misconceptions of later years.” Markevitch turned to Jean Cocteau, and wrote a Cantata In a highly contrapuntal style.

Bartok wrote him a letter “Dear Mr. Markevitch: Please permit a colleague who does not have the honor of knowing you to thank you for your marvelous “Icare.” It required some time for me to study and understand all the beauty of your score, and I think it will take many years for full appreciation to come. I want to tell you it is my conviction that the day will arrive when serious attention will be given to all you produce. You are the most striking personality in contemporary music, and I rejoice in profiting by your influence. With my respectful admiration, Béla Bartók.”

The shrewd umpire of musical taste proved once more his keen judgment and understanding of the changing esthetics. From Stravinsky to Markevitch he rounded up all that was vital in the quarter of a century that he dominated. The young composer’s works were acclaimed both in Paris and abroad. He was known as “Igor II” or “Little Igor” – expected to follow in the steps of Igor Stravinsky. It is a curious thing that Markevitch’s first name should be Igor, for that name was extremely rare among Russians, and suggested the early Russia of regional princes and the wars against the Mongolian nomads. It would be informing to know whether Stravinsky’s first name was not suggested to his father, a noted bass of the Imperial Opera, by the famous epic, “Chronicle of Igor’s Hosts,”.

Markevitch’s first composition to attract wide attention was a Concerto Grosso heard in Paris in 1929. His Psalm for choir and orchestra caused a sensation when it was played in Florence at one of the concerts of the International Society for Contemporary Music. Markevitch continued composing as war approached, but in October 1941, not long after completing his last original work, the Variations, Fugue and Envoi on a Theme of Handel for piano, he fell seriously ill. After recovering, he decided to give up composition and focus exclusively on conducting. He made his debut with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1930 and in 1934-35 studied with the conductor Hermann Scherchen while continuing to compose and perform as a pianist.

Markevitch had settled in Italy in in 1940 and, despite serious illness in the winter of 1942, he played an active part in the Italian resistance after the German invasion of Italy in 1943. When, in 1944, the British forces asked Markevitch to reorganise the orchestra in Florence and the Maggio Fiorentino, it marked the beginning of a real career, as a conductor, almost entirely distinct from the first. Over the next thirty years, he conducted the Stockholm Symphony Orchestra (1952-53), the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (1956-60), the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra (1957-58), the Orchestre Lamoureux de Paris (1957-61), the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra (1965-69) and the Monte Carlo Orchestra (1967). Markevitch also held conducting seminars or courses in Salzburg, Mexico, Moscow, Madrid, Monte Carlo and Weimar.

Markevitch married Nijinsky’s daughter, Kira, in 1936; they were later divorced. His second marriage, in 1946, was to Topazia Caetani, with whom he had a son and two daughters. In 1970, after ignoring his own compositions for nearly 30 years, Markevitch began to conduct his own music frequently, triggering its slow revival. His last concert was in Kiev, his birthplace, and he died suddenly from a heart attack in the Antibes on March 7, 1983, after a concert tour in Japan.

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2014

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Article number: MC 5002
UPC barcode: 791154054208
Recording dates: 1970
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 75:22

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Ingeborg Stiehler and Boris Lipnitzki
With special thanks to Dr. Reinhard Niemann
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic