Stravinsky: Apollon musagete; Symphony of Psalms; Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2; L’histoire du soldat; Circus Polka

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Igor Markevitch
WORKS: Apollon musagete; Symphony of Psalms; Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2; L’histoire du soldat; Circus Polka
PERFORMER: LSO, Russian State Academic Orchestra/Igor Markevitch
CATALOGUE NO: 438 973-2 ADD (1963/62)
Such are the freshness and vitality of Monteux’s performances here, that one might easily mistake them for the work of a brilliantly accomplished youth. This is a collection to treasure. Monteux was a conductor who spurned idiosyncrasy and exaggeration of every kind in favour of a subtly disciplined lyricism which, for all the guiding mind and hand behind it, is never rigid or over precise. From the spiritual grandeur of Beethoven’s Eroica to the most delicate colouristic shadings of Debussy,

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Monteux’s performances here are masterly in the highest sense; deeply satisfying and often illuminating.

Of the remaining performers represented here, two (Markevitch and Smeterlin) are not French by birth but French by temperament and style. Markevitch was a composer as well as a conductor, and his readings of Stravinsky combine a composer’s structural imagination with a jeweller’s attention to detail and a rhythmic, colouristic sensibility which often led him to smooth over some of the music’s rougher edges. Always urbane and elegant, in sum, but sometimes too civilised by half. Smeterlin, similarly, was a performer of exceptionally aristocratic polish and reserve. His Chopin is supple and richly communicative, with an unobtrusive sense of structure and balance, but diere are many instances where the seasoned Chopin-lover may feel a sense of frustration. The line between sensitivity and eloquence may be thin, but it’s crucial.

Markevitch: too urbane and elegant?

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As to the two baritones, Souzay was unsurpassed in this repertoire, and this is a set which no one even remotely interested in French song should be without. About Maurane I feel very much more ambivalent. His style and tone now sound very dated, and his colleagues here, most notably Jean Fournet, are often distractingly wooden. The dedicated song-lover will find much of interest here, but others should approach with caution. Jeremy Siepmann