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Ernst MIELCK (1877-1899)
Macbeth overture, op. 2 (1896) [13:27]
Altböhmisches Weihnachtslied (Old Bohemian Christmas Song), for choir and orchestra, op. 5 (1897) [10:01]
Dramatic Overture, op. 6 (1898) [12:41]
Altgermanisches Julfest (Old Germanic Yule Feast), for baritone, male choir and orchestra, op. 7 (1899) [9:29]
Finnish Suite, op. 10 (1899) [15:50]
Juha Kotilainen (baritone)
Academic Male-Voice Choir of Helsinki; Lyran Academic Female-Voice Choir; Kampen Lualu Chamber Choir/Kari Turunen
Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra/Mikk Murdvee
rec. 2012/13, Uusi Paviljonki Hill, Kauniainen, Finland
First recordings except for op. 6
Texts provided in Finnish, German and English
Reviewed as 16-bit lossless download from eClassical.com (DB)
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0174 [61:47]

Brian Wilson nominated this a Discovery of the Month in a 2014 Download News, but it was not picked up at the time for a full review, which it fully deserves. When lists of composers who died young are made, Schubert is the obvious big-name who leads the list followed by Mozart and Mendelssohn. Of the lesser-knowns, Juan Arriaga is one that comes to mind. Now I can add the name of Ernst Mielck, who died of tuberculosis on his 22nd birthday.

Born in the then-Finnish city of Vyborg, ceded to the Soviet Union as part of the Karelian Peninsula in 1940, he was sickly and withdrawn as a child, and obsessed with music. I imagine that these days he would be diagnosed as somewhere on the autism spectrum. He didn’t attend normal school, and was privately tutored in music from the age of ten. He exhibited such rapid development, that at the age of fourteen, he was sent to Berlin to study at the famous Stern Conservatoire. By seventeen, on his return from Germany, he appeared in public for the first time as soloist in the Mendelssohn G minor Piano Concerto. At twenty, after his return to Berlin to study with Max Bruch, who described Mielck as his favourite pupil, the Berlin Philharmonic gave a concert of his music. Not bad for someone who at age seven, close to death with tetanus, was written off by his doctor who said to Mielck’s mother “it’s for the best; if he had lived, he would have been an imbecile”.

Macbeth has certainly inspired a number of composers to put pen to manuscript. Mielck’s is quite sunny, very much Mendelssohn-inspired, and as such, doesn’t really conjure the bloodthirstiness of the play. The Dramatic Overture is certainly closer to its label, the Mendelssohn influence much less, and every so often, I hear inklings of Sibelius, whose early works, such as the Lemminkäinen Suite and Kullervo, would have been known to Mielck. The notes indicate that the Dramatic Overture is the only work presented here not to be a first recording, which I won’t argue with, but I can’t find a reference to the earlier recording. The Finnish Suite, his last major work, is quite different, much lighter in its scoring and folk-influenced. The two Christmas cantatas, one Christian, the other pagan, were described as “straightforward” by the composer. They are indeed relatively simple in their harmonies, but nonetheless very enjoyable, and would be ideal for proficient amateur performances.

I was a little disappointed with the relatively short playing time, given that a Konzertstück for violin and orchestra exists which would have fitted comfortably in the remaining space. Yes, it has been recorded before (Ondine ODE10192, with Mielck’s symphony) and would require a soloist’s fee to add to the budget, but surely the concertmaster or an up-and-coming Helsinki Conservatorium violinist could have been persuaded to learn the piece without breaking the bank.

The performances are very satisfactory, particularly given the majority of the orchestra players are not professional musicians. The sound is good, the choirs are particularly well recorded. The comprehensive booklet notes supplied from eClassical (and others) have a problem which I mentioned in another review. The pages are displayed two at a time but not in order, so that 2 and 27 appear facing oneanother, for example. I hope that this will be addressed soon, but don’t let that deter you from buying it now, since the problem is not present in the booklet downloadable from the Toccata website.

David Barker

A further review ...

The Finnish composer Ernst Mielck was from pretty much the same generation as Sibelius but was denied that composer's long life. His music is stylistically cooler and looks to Romantic models such as Liszt, Mendelssohn and Bruch. What can one expect of a composer who died just before the start of the last century aged 22? There's little of the withering emotional heat and overpowering zest one finds in Kullervo which was premiered in 1892.

The Macbeth Overture is a smoothly sophisticated work with little flavour of the play's tragedy or violence. This is more in the mood of Dvorak's late tone poems and Mendelssohn's Fair Melusine - all rather soft-focus and in a received conventional language. There are some momentary exceptions: about three minutes in the music becomes slightly more turbulent and later we get some yawping fanfares. However this is more German romantic in tone than Finnish nationalist; not even the gentled nationalism one finds in the orchestral works of Robert Kajanus.

Altböhmisches Weihnachtslied for choir and orchestra is a pleasant listen with some engagingly silvery singing from the women as well as a touch of Berlioz and a dash of Brahms' Volkslieder. It's in territory similar to that of Elgar's From the Bavarian Highlands although not quite as catchy. The anonymously titled Dramatic Overture has a more gritty mien which is comparable with that of Dvorak's Othello and Brahms' Tragic Overture. The narrative curve of the piece is more purposeful than the earlier Macbeth with some skittering conspiratorial writing and an interplay of light and shadow that suggests Sibelius.

The Altgermanisches Julfest is smiling, cheery and genial. It's a bit on the bumptious side - a sort of Nordic lads' night out. The writing is stahlspiel bright and more Germanic again than Finnish - look at the title. The music speaks of the overpowering Teutonic tradition with smooth and calming hymns, a clanking swagger and stirring writing to swell the heart.

Lastly there's the Finnish Suite with a curvaceous nationalist solo for the clarinet, bright-eyed Karelian jollity, a sentimental stately andante, a rousing vivace with French horns rampant and gawky humour. As with all the pieces here the recording has been well done with plenty of impact and a nice spatially affluent sound-image.

This review is taken from hearing the CD as first issued.

Rob Barnett



 

 




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