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Mielck: Dramatic Overture; Macbeth Overture; Finnish Suite / Mikk Murdvee

Release Date: 06/25/2013 
Label:  Toccata Classics   Catalog #: 174   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MIELCK Macbeth Overture . Altböhmisches Weihnachtslied. Dramatic Overture. Altgermanisches Julfest. Finnish Suite Mikk Murdvee, cond; Helsinki University SO; Juha Kotlainen (bar); Academic Male-Voice Ch of Helsinki; Lyran Academic Female-Voice Ch; Kampin Laulu C Ch; Kari Turunen (choirmaster) TOCCATA 0174 (61:28)

One of the pleasures of writing for Read more Fanfare is the never-ending opportunities for discovering new music, not just by familiar names but by composers you’d otherwise probably never encounter. Here’s a typical case, the late 19th-century Finnish composer Ernst Mielck (1877–1899).

Those dates are correct. Mielck died of tuberculosis just short of his 22nd birthday. He joins the list of composers who showed immense promise even in their teenage works, but who lived only a few years longer. (Others that come to mind are Hans Rott, Antonio de Arriaga, Julius Reubke, Giovanni Pergolesi, and Guillaume Lekeu, all of whom died at age 26 or younger.) Mielck, to quote Kimmo Korhonen, who is writing a book on the composer, “was the most dazzlingly precocious talent in the history of Finnish music.” Mielck wrote “the first artistically satisfactory Finnish symphony” in 1897, two years before Sibelius’s First, and was the first Finnish composer to hear an entire program of his own works played by the Berlin Philharmonic. That program included his Symphony and the Konzertstück for piano and orchestra, which have been paired on at least two recordings in recent years. Martin Anderson reviewed the Ondine CD back in Fanfare 23: 5 and wrote a glowing account. I can find no other recordings of the five works on the current issue. The booklet proclaims that the disc “includes first recordings,” but without specifying which or how many.

The five works, all lasting between 10 and 16 minutes, are presented in chronological order. Interestingly, to my ears, the earliest is the best. The Macbeth Overture, op. 2, completed when Mielck was just 19, is a totally assured, compelling work that bears comparison with Schumann’s Manfred Overture or Brahms’s Tragic Overture, both in structural terms and in character (a Sturm und Drang main theme contrasted with a soaring, lovely second subject, much turbulence in the development section, etc.). The music exudes dark intensity and Brahmsian weight, capped by a swashbuckling ending that Korngold might have written. Anderson described the Symphony as “rugged, square-jawed, no-nonsense,” words that might also apply to both the Macbeth Overture and the Dramatic Overture, composed two years later. The two short cantatas are made of lesser stuff, but the Finnish Suite , op. 10, Mielck’s last major work, is full of good-natured charm. The first movement is based on a herding tune, the second has the heavy-footed clomp of a Ländler , the third is a lively peasant dance, the fourth a gracious Andante, and the finale a rousing number that employs the resources of a large orchestra to the fullest.

Performances by the Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra reveal many of the faults one often encounters in student ensembles: muddy textures, blaring trumpets, lack of clean articulation, and insecure rhythms, but the musicians do make a noble effort, and play with spirit and verve. The principal horn is exceptional, as is the baritone soloist in the Altgermanisches Julfest , Juha Kotilainen. Excellent engineering.

FANFARE: Robert Markow
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