There's no argument that Igor Markevitch, who first emerged as a composing prodigy in the era of Diaghalev, was a great conductor as well. But toward the end of his career his star waned, in large part due to a catastrophic hearing loss that came on suddenly. As a result, his later recordings are often a pale shadow of his earlier ones. Here he seems decidedly less than passionate and committed to Tchaikovksy's last three symphonies, yet thanks to the LSO's excelent playing and the precision of the interpretation, one remains interested.
Sym. #4 -- the first movement is steady, well balanced, and good in execution, but there's no special drama or excitment, and the movement's shape seems loose. The second movement Andantino, however, brings out some lovely solo wind playing, and Markevitch applies a refined touch. The Scherzo begins with drilled precision in the string pizzicatos that still manages to sound spontaneous. Too bad the trio loses momentum and starts to sag. The finale, taken at a clip, avoids sounding frenetic. Markevitch emphasizes the folkloric elements instead of the fireworks, and that works well, assuming ou don't mind the loss of visceral impact.
Sym. #5 -- I expected Markevitch to remain at fairly low temperature for the Fifth Sym., but this works benefits from such an approach more than the Fourth. The themes verge on the banal, and pumping up the rhetoric only makes the Fifth sound empty. One may long for Mravinsky's fiery interpretation, but in the first movement Markevitch shows that refinement and balance are a good alternative. The first horn plays his solo in the Andante cantabile with great stylishness (I assume it's Barry Tuckwell), and Markevitch for his part shapes the orchestral line elegantly. The third movement Waltz needs more energy and flair than it gets here, but there's no doubting Markevitch's ability to shape the line. For me, the finale can easily become vapid -- I don't find that Tchaikovsky's motto theme has as much depth as he thinks it does. Markevitch certainly doesn't whip things up; if an;ything, he's reticent to a fault. If you prefer a reserved, controlled reading a la Dohnanyi, this version will please you more than it did me.
Sym. #6 -- Oddly, the Pathetique starts off with some scrapy ensemble in the woodwinds, and Markevitch seems to proeed without much interest. Phrasing is ordinary, rhythms loose. Given the many great interpretations this work has received, Markevitch's is uninvolving. There are dramatic high points in the first movement, hwoever, and I really admire the way Markevitch digs into the 5/4 waltz -- he finds accents that no one else does. The third movement march has become a regular showpiece for orchestra, but here Markevitch seems to hold back. The clipped phrasing and foursquare handling of rhythm are baffling to me. The poignancy of the Finale is controlled, the phrasing almost cautious. But by then one realizes that this was Markevitch's style at the time, a far cry from some of his most famous recordings from the Fifties (like his blazing Berlioz Damnation of Faust).
Having said all this, Markevitch was a major talent, and anything he has to say about Tchaikovsky is worth hearing. I'd recommend this set at its bargain price and can only praise its cultivaiton and refinement.