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Ernst MIELCK (1877-1899)
Symphony in F minor, Op. 4 (1897) [40:40]
Concert Piece for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 9 (1898) [25:23]
Liisa Pohjola (piano)
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. 24-27 May 1999, Turku Concert Hall, Finland
STERLING CDS1035-2 [66:32]

"With the all too premature death of Ernst Mielck, Finland lost a young composer of genius who might even have challenged the pre-eminence of Sibelius". A bold statement from Bo Hyttner who contributes the accompanying liner-notes to this release. We’ll never know. Yet, when Mielck died at the age of twenty-one from tuberculosis in Switzerland in 1899, he left a body of compositions including a string quintet, two string quartets, a trio, one symphony, two overtures, a Konzertstück for violin and orchestra, another for piano and orchestra, a Finnish Suite, two large works for chorus and orchestra in German (review), and several piano pieces and songs; all of this was the fruit of the last six years of his life.

He was born in Vyborg and started piano lessons at the age of ten. In 1891, at the age of fourteen, he was sent to Berlin to study with Max Bruch, who considered his student "in possession of an easy, felicitous, and remarkable flair for invention". Mielck was both a composer and concert pianist, and it was in Germany that he found his greatest success.
He commenced work on his Symphony in 1897 and completed it in the October, when it received its premiere at the Great Hall of Helsinki University conducted by Robert Kajanus. The concert also included the composer playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. As late-romantic orchestral music, this is a captivating score, certainly worthy of attention. A quiet drum-roll announces a solemn, dignified introduction to the opening movement, which gradually leads into an Allegro energetico. Animated and ebullient, Lintu and his band instil plenty of energy and vigour. Yet for all this, there’s an underlying unease, with the music not finding peace for itself. Clearly the influence of Mendelssohn can be detected in parts. A sprightly second movement follows, where the staccato woodwind passages are particularly attractive. A Dvořákian theme enters at one point, and the overall disposition is sunny and more optimistic. The slow movement, marked Andante cantabile, is tender, serene and idyllic, and the hints of sadness and regret make one wonder whether or not the composer was aware that his days were numbered. A boisterous and enthusiastic finale ends the Symphony, and Lintu certainly doesn’t hold back. This time it’s Brahms who seems to be the influence, especially in the more dense orchestral textures. The ending is triumphant. The work shows great promise, with Mielck’s deft handling of the orchestration a striking feature.

In some of the last pieces he ever penned Mielck made extensive use of Finnish folk tunes. In 1899, the year of his death, he composed a Finnish Suite for orchestra. A year earlier came the Concert Piece for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 9. It’s a three movement piano concerto in all but name, with a folk-infused narrative. The central Largo is based on the song Det gingo sig tvċ flickor i rosendelund, and what a beautiful, richly lyrical movement it is, proof of Mielck’s melodic flair. The finale is a set of variations, the least interesting movement in my view. Liisa Pohjola delivers a thrilling performance. I was interested to read that after the composer’s death, his mother, wanting a more prominent role for the pianist, approached Max Bruch. He wasn’t for tampering, so she turned to Karl Ekman who possibly supplied the brief first movement cadenza.

Hannu Lintu coaxes alert and committed accounts from his Turku players, truly bringing this attractive music to life in convincing interpretations. There is an alternative version of the Symphony with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo on the Ondine label (ODE 1019/2). I haven’t had the opportunity to hear it to offer a comparison. Interestingly, Oramo is the son of pianist Liisa Pohjola and the coupling on the Ondine disc is Mielck's Konzertstück for violin and orchestra.

Stephen Greenbank



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