Igor Markevitch's fame still rests more or less exclusively on his work as one of the most remarkable conductors in the twentieth century. But the Marco Polo series of his orchestral music, should - if there is any justice - fill out that picture significantly. Indeed, I don't think I am exaggerating that this series reveals him as one of the most remarkable composers of the twentieth century as well. To emphasize: Markevitch is not merely a conductor who also composed (as most conductor-composers do; in a derivative, though often well-crafted and imaginative, manner); Markevitch's music is highly original, spectacularly enjoyable, always fresh and bold. In fact, Markevitch is perhaps the most convincing representative of Russian futurism (Prokofiev's forays into the genre perhaps excepted) I've heard. Even so, I readily admit that the stylistic range is rather limited, and I can, in a sense, see why he gave up composing so early instead of continuing to write the same pieces over and over. Still, we should be truly grateful for having this remarkable body of music, and also be grateful to the Arnhem Philharmonic, Christopher Lyndon-Gee and Marco Polo for making it available in usually more than acceptable, though a little rough, performances.
La Taille de l'Homme is Part One of an (unfinished) huge work for soprano and a chamber ensemble consisting of piano, string quintet, four winds, horn and trumpet, completed in 1939 (the main reason it was left unfinished seems to be because of the poet, Ramuz, more than Markevitch), describing, from a humanistic perspective, the stages of life and the passage of the seasons, but with a rather bleak outlook. The opening, instrumental Prélude is an atmospheric evocation of life's beginning, and already from the start, Markevitch's imaginative and seemingly endless resource of inventive ideas is at display. Throughout its almost hour-long span, the work is never dull, and contains some remarkable things (such as the doubling of soprano and trumpet in the chorale). The music is full of vitality and ingenious use of polyrhythmic twists and turns, enchanting textures and marvelous virtuous passages.
It is, in short, a splendid work, and the performances are generally good, ably lead by Christopher Lyndon-Gee, who seems to have a thorough and deeply considered understanding of the music (although - importantly - he uses a larger body of strings than the composer prescribed). The playing is generally more than serviceable, if a little rough at times, and Lucy Shelton is a generally superb soloist, even if she does sound a little uncomfortable at times. Sound quality is very good, and this is, in sum, another fine installment in this important series (although I recommend anyone unfamiliar with Markevitch's music to start with volume 2 or 3).