Sunday, 10 November 2013

My little contribution to the Verdi bicentenary

Verdi: Giovanna D'Arco - Overture

The Philharmonia Orchestra 
conducted by Igor Markevitch

HMV C3965
(2EA 14031-1A & 2EA14032-2)
(Thursday, 30th June 1949)

Link to FLAC files (about 37Mb)

As this is Verdi’s 200th birthday year I thought I had better add my little bit to the piles of stuff already put out. Also being a lazy I have filled the the page out with photos.


This was Igor Markevitch’s first London recording for HMV and his first with the Philharmonia. Made in the wonderful acoustic of the Kingsway Hall (alas no more) the recording has not only great verve but also the attraction of a trio section played by flautist Gareth Morris (1920-2007) Oboist, Sidney "Jock" Sutcliffe, (1918-2001) and Clarinetist, Frederick “Jack”Thurston (1901-1953).

Igor Markevitch
I do not believe that Markevitch’s early recordings have been re-released, or if they have I can’t see them anywhere! Although he was in London during the last week of June and first week or so of July 1949 it appears he did not conduct any concerts. Possibly he was in the UK to have his memoir Made in Italy translated and published, negotiate a contract for recordings and plan a concert series for the following year. His first concert was held on the Sunday the 14th of February with the Philharmonia Orchestra, but I'm unsure where this took place.  His first London Concert, again with the Philharmonia was not until Thursday 25th May 1950 at the Royal Albert Hall.

Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor’s in their The Record Guide of 1951 gave the disc two stars ‘A long and attractive andante pastorale section is one of several features in this brilliant overture which recall Rossini’s William Tell. The performance has a splendid vitality (and were required, a delicacy) which make the hearer wish that Igor Markevitch could be engaged to conduct some of the Italian repertory at Covent Garden.’ 

Sydney Sutcliffe
The Gramophone for April 1950 was a bit more grudging about the music. ‘As far as I can judge, having never heard this music before or seen the score, this is a keen and cordially reproduced performance. It is an early Verdi, containing one or two ingratiating tunes. Most of the overture is gentle; there is a march, and a bit of characteristic blood-and-thunder. A pretty bit of solo and duet work is very tasty (side 1), and a touch of pathos is sweetly limned. 

Gareth Morris

Part of side 2 shows the conventional weaknesses only too well. Gaps fill slowly. Foreign recordings of this overture are listed, but I remember no British one. The opera, loosely (and mostly, un-historically) based on Schiller's Maid of Orleans, came out in 1845 at Milan. Love reared its inevitable head, the supernatural was a flop, and the work, which, one reads in Hussey, has a touch of William Tell-ish "grand" quality and size, had "an ephemeral success and soon disappeared.'' Toye finds " something to admire in every act," though much to mourn. These were early days for Verdi, who was writing from 1839 to 1893. Titles before this, that we can recall, are Nabucco, I Lombardi, and Ernani. Two years later came Macbeth (more supernatural trouble, but also more imagination, to help us to forget those weak witcheries). The bite and blare come out well. Nothing, then, to demand preservation in Verdian archives, but a useful testing-sample of the early style.  W.R.Anderson.

Frederick Thurston on the right
The substance they used to press records in during the post war period is a nightmare to restore - the crackle is extreme – I’ve tempered it a lot but even so some distortion is evident in the final result. Maybe this is the reason the records have not been reissued for I doubt if the original metals survive at Hayes and as no vinyl pressing for dubbing are available to process into CDs. The record cost me all of 10 pence ($0.16 cents or €0.12), so how can I complain. 

Title page of the original edition


  1. When I'm lazy, I produce much lesser text than you - but I'm glad you did! thanks for this early Markevitch reording! Amazing transfer, given the amount of crackle from the original record.
    Greetz, Satyr

    1. Thanks Satyr

      The shellac at this period is indeed just terrible - I read that the restrictions on shellac imports together with the increased amount of recycled records included in the mix caused the problems - still the music shines through


  2. Replies
    1. Well only a few more weeks until we have to celebrate Gluck, Meyerbeer & Gretchaninov for 2014