The rediscovery of the forgotten 1920s and 1930s music of Ukrainian-French composer Igor Markevitch was a major event in the last years of the 20th century; here was a genuine missing link: a composer who linked the idioms of Stravinsky and Prokofiev to the far more rigorous concerns of postwar French composers such as Messiaen and Dutilleux. This Naxos disc is a reissue of one of the recordings that made this event possible in its original form as a Marco Polo disc, featuring the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra under Christopher Lyndon-Gee; everything about it is the same as the Marco Polo release except for the front cover and that now what was Volume 3 in Marco Polo's series is now Volume 4. Rébus, orchestrally premiered in 1931, was intended as a ballet and certainly sounds like it could be one, but was never staged that way; it's effect is kind of like a crazy Agon with off-the-hook Prokofiev added in; the "Variations" are a continuous passacaglia in which the note values evolve by steps through succeeding passages, but instead of evolving patient, busily contrapuntal harmonic clashes and gradually bigger textures à la Hindemith, it's more like a wild, freaky party; not quite the orgiastic outbursts in Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony, but certainly closer to that than Hindemith. The Hymnes date, for the most part, from 1932-33; the concluding Hymne à la Mort was added in 1936. This was one of a few pieces that Markevitch began to conduct again at the very end of his career after a long, decades-long impasse where he prohibited performances of his own music. One can see why he would favor this piece; it's immediate, violently rhythmic (during the "Hymn of Work" and "Third Hymn," particularly) and also emotionally very charged, introspective, colorful, and mysterious, particularly in the "Hymne à la Mort."
Markevitch's testy relationship with Igor Stravinsky is one of the constant elements of Markevitch's biography and, indeed, served to shape him. No one can blame conductor/annotator Christopher Lyndon-Gee for making the comment, "Let this necessary observation not be misleading: Stravinsky's 'influence' on young Markevitch is minimal," as Markevitch's undeserved reputation as a mere Stravinsky imitator -- to some extent cultivated by the jealous older composer -- has become so prevalent in the discussion of Markevitch's work as a composer. However, Markevitch's friction with Stravinsky is one of the elements that make his music interesting and good. If you like Stravinsky in his pre-neo-classic period, or early Prokofiev, or for that matter the music of Silvestre Revueltas, Naxos' Igor Markevitch: Complete Orchestral Works, Vol. 4, will not fail to please; it's vibrant, challenging, exciting, and there are some sections of it that just carry you right along by virtue of its strong rhythms, strangeness, and visionary spirit.