six years at the helm of the Orchestre National de Lyon and a full nine-disc set of Debussy's orchestral works earned him his solid Gallic stripes. And there were moments during this programme of Messiaen and Debussy when those stripes shone through; yet the overall picture never quite lived up.
The concert opened at its best with Messiaen's rarely performed Les Offrandes Oubliees: a bold "meditation symphonique" and (incredibly) the composer's earliest orchestral work. Markl's brush strokes were decisive and the orchestra responded in kind - it made for a striking reminder that musical mysticism doesn't need to be told in a whisper, nor French orchestral colours always painted through a haze.
That clarity underscored the evening, but what suited the youthful zeal of Les Offrande sounded too square in the rapturous Poemes Pour Mi. Messiaen composed these nine songs for his first wife Claire Delbos, whom he nicknamed Mi, and they are as ecstatic as anything he wrote. Yet Markl's baton remained earthbound. He tempered the hot swells and flighty sighs and did not find nearly enough devilish bite in the deliciously wicked Epouvante. Soprano Gweneth-Ann Jeffers made a tremendous velvety sound but was too careful in her delivery, as though she, too, was guarding her passions.
The fragrant nights and festive mornings of Debussy's Images were competently captured, and Iberia had real poise with a sultry flamenco strut. But still Markl lacked a soft touch around the edges and never seemed able, or willing, to let the music expand beyond its literal boundaries.