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Erkki MELARTIN (1875–1937)
Traumgesicht, Op. 70 (1910) [16:37]
Marjatta - A Legend from the Kalevala for soprano and orchestra, Op. 79 (1914) [13:35]
Music from the ballet The Blue Pearl, Op. 160 (1928-30) [26:10]
Soile Isokoski (soprano)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. May-August 2015, Helsinki Music Centre, Finland.
ONDINE ODE1283-2 [56:50]

Finnish composer Erkki Melartin was born in Karelia. The composer Martin Wegelius was his teacher at the Helsinki Music Institute and his time in Vienna was under the tutelage of Robert Fuchs whose music has made a reputation in its own right courtesy of his symphonies, piano concerto and chamber music. Melartin was the conductor of the Viipuri Orchestra and taught at the Helsinki Music Institute. His legacy includes the opera Aino, six symphonies, chamber music and vocal works. His 1913 Violin Concerto was recorded in 1999 by the violinist John Storgårds, someone we are now more familiar with as a conductor. Leif Segerstam conducts the Tampere Philharmonic on Ondine ODE 923-2. Melartin's solo piano music has been eloquently championed by Maria Lettberg.

Ondine, who have already done so much for Melartin, now venture forth with recordings of three of his previously unrecorded orchestral works.

Traumgesicht is, in effect, a vividly coloured tone poem in an impressionistic style. It was written for Alexander Siloti and the Leningrad Philharmonic. Unlike the symphonies and violin concerto this work is more in the way of late Scriabin and Prokofiev's Dreams and The White Swan. Further afield it can be bracketed with Charles Griffes' White Peacock and Kubla Khan and William Baines' still unrecorded Thoughtdrift and Island of the Fey. There are Finnish non-Sibelian parallels to be drawn via other Ondine discs: Raitio in his Moonlight On Jupiter and The Swans on Ondine ODE 790-2 and Pingoud on ODE 875-2.

Its opening bars create a murmuring effect and soon there's a surprising hint of The Swan of Tuonela. At 11:33 Melartin introduces a Sibelian ostinato suggestive of a fatigued march, redolent of Pohjola's Daughter and En Saga. Influences or pre-echoes flood in: Debussy's Faune, Bax's Spring Fire and Ravel's Daphnis until the music laps away into silence. While not quite as morose as Goossens' By The Tarn it is in the same broad constituency. Traumgesicht was largely forgotten - Schnéevoigt had brought it out in Helsinki during 1933 - until Lintu revived it in a Helsinki concert in 2013.

Marjatta, written on the eve of the Great War, is very much an operatic scena with some combustible writing for the singer. Melartin sets words from Runo 50 of Elias Lönnrot's version of "The Kalevala". It is linked to Sibelius’ Luonnotar and Melartin’s Aino. Both Luonnotar and Marjatta were written for Aino Ackté. The work's opening pages find us amid the fragrance of summer days punctuated with recurrent cuckoo calls; they reappear in The Blue Pearl music. The music is enchanting - note the harp 'sweeps' at 8:17. It's all very approachable. The storyline recounted by the soprano is diffuse: The maiden shepherdess Marjatta goes berrying and ends up giving birth. The venerable Vainamoinen puts in an appearance in his copper boat and the songs of the Finnish nation are exalted. You should enjoy this if you already have a taste for big-hearted works for voice and orchestra by Zemlinsky, Bantock and Schulhoff.

I take the opportunity to remind you of another Soile Isokoski Ondine CD: a prized collection of Sibelius' songs with orchestra including Luonnotar.

We experience a major gear-crash for Hannu Lintu's concert suite of eight movements from The Blue Pearl. This was one of Melartin's last works and was the first full-length, three-act ballet in Finnish music. The plot is typically fanciful: A South Seas octopus-like monster holds a princess captive. The blue pearl is to be found in the monster's crown. A prince falls for the princess and rescues her after which celebrations follow with dances from various lands and nations.

Contrasting with the other two works, The Blue Pearl is, by and large, fluffy, fluttering and frivolous but cleanly orchestrated. It's in the same ball-park as Bax's Truth About Russian Dancers. Melartin breaks the pattern occasionally, including the poetic use of cuckoo-calls near the start. The liner-notes draw comparison with The Nutcracker and that seems pretty apt given the procession of novelty national dances. There is some supernatural stuff (tr.5) and lashings of gentle cinematic romance complete with tinkling piano (tr. 9). It's romantic but much of this is deliciously sentimental (trs. 6-7) with sections for solo violin and harp under-pulse.

The accompanying booklet presents all the key information in a well designed and engaging way. The essay is by Tuire Ranta-Meyer and Jani Kyllönen. It's presented in English and Finnish and there are a few striking plates to add interest. The sung words for Marjatta are also there in the sung Finnish with side-by-side English translation (W.F. Kirby) line by line. It's all very well done.

Another valuable and ear-prickling addition to the Finnish music discography. Keep up the good work, Ondine. Klami and Madetoja have already done reasonably well on disc. I hope that Ondine will now turn to the symphonies of Erik Fordell and the other orchestral music of Merikanto (Aare and Oscar), Pingoud and Raitio.

Rob Barnett



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