Fine performances of wonderful but virtually unknown music
James J. Badal | Shaker Heights, Ohio USA | 03/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I agree completely with the other review posted here. I even came by these recordings the same way he did; I read the glowing comments on one of the single issues and decided to investigate the whole set. This is wonderful music--beautfiully crafted, sometimes lyrical, sometimes powerful, but always colorful and interesting. As a conductor Melartin brought Mahler to the Scandanavian countires, just as Wilhelm Stenhammar-- his exact comtemporary--introduced Bruckner to the north; and one can hear the Mahler influence in Melartin's dazzling orchestration. Melartin gets a very brief paragraph in Groves; and, as nearly as I can determine, these are the only recordings of the symphonies available--perhaps, ever available. I'm not going to play "is-it-as-good-as" games. The quality of this music, however, raises real questions about the standard orchestral canon--what's in and what's out. There is a great deal of music routinely heard in the world's concert halls which is not the equal of these enjoyable symphonies. I don't know much about Leonid Grin, and it's always difficult to judge performances of marginalized repertoire when you've never heard it before. I remember Bernstein took an interest in his talents some years ago, and I think he now holds a post somewhere in the US south-west. All I can say is the music is compelling and he gets top notch results from a little known orchestra. Great sound and a good price! (Check out Melartin's violin concerto with Segerstam on the same label!)"
This is great!
K. DANIELSON | New Castle, Pa USA | 02/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What we have here is another example of a lost or forgotten composer. Melartin, a Finnish composer who lived from 1875-1937 has in essence become completely eclipsed by his contemporary, Jean Sibelius. While I'm not saying that Melartin's symphonies are better than those masterpeices of Sibelius, I am going to say that these deserve better attention and circulation than they have been given. These are wonderful, tuneful works, full of brilliant orchestration! The composer that seems to come to mind for me is Bruckner, only these are more brilliant orchestrally. I decided to purchase the complete set after reading the recommendations for Symphony #4, and haven't regretted it for a minute! Everyone of these symphonies will bring much pleasure to the listener. Please buy this set!"
There's more to early 20th Century Finnish symphonic music t
Martin Selbrede | The Woodlands, Texas | 11/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Read the previous reviews to get a feel for what this is, and what this is not. I don't plan to reiterate what has been so competently stated by my predecessors. From a nationalistic point of view, these symphonies do represent an original voice, however derivative it may sound to ears that are "wise after the fact." Erkki Melartin seems to be looking for his voice in the first symphony, which tends to meander (despite lofty contrapuntal intentions and the controlling principle of brevity). Things tighten up and come into focus in the next 4 works, and symphonies 3 and 4 are nothing short of masterful. Economy of thematic means is matched with a creatively-employed color pallette with cleanness of line heightening the drama. The counterpoint is complex, but never sounds like it -- it comes across as effortless (despite the fact that one is often listening to complex overlays of the cantus firmus in augmentation, retrograde, inversion, etc., all at once). Thematic unity is also emphasized: motifs in a given symphony's first movement tend to pepper subsequent movements (or, perhaps just as accurately, subsequent themes owe their heritage to previous material, but sometimes inverted, etc.). The 5th symphony is also mature and satisfying, but Melartin dabbles in darker, more dissonant waters in the 6th, which is, to me, the least successful of the set (primarily because of its first movement, although subsequent movements attempt to redeem the picture). All in all, worthy of one's patronage. The Tampere Orchestra plays flawlessly and with conviction under Leonid Grin. If you were to get one set of 20th century symphonies this year, this one should vie with British composer Edward Rubbra's set for your consideration (also available on Amazon) -- you can't go wrong with either set, and the compositional craftsmanship in both cases is exemplary."
Evidence that Melartin should be better known
Russ | Richmond, VA | 07/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is strange, and disappointing, how the passage of time has treated certain composers in relation to others. I assume most people reading this would be unfamiliar with the Finnish composer Erkki Melartin (1875-1937). Of course, Melartin is destined to remain in obscurity, at least for the foreseeable future, given the lack or recordings of his works. In fact, this recording of his symphonies by the Tampere Philharmonic constitutes the only recording of Melartin's symphonies available. Let's compare that to, say, the symphonies of Melartin's contemporary and fellow Finn, Sibelius. There are no fewer than fifty recordings of Sibelius symphonies currently available. Based on the quality, and inventiveness, of Melartin's music, this relative neglect is truly unfair.
But, enough on that. What I hope to accomplish by writing this review is to encourage adventurous listeners to acquire these excellent symphonies. It is often helpful to make some comparisons when speaking of an unknown composer. Starting with the obvious, yes, there are similarities to Sibelius here. But since Melartin's symphonies are contemporaneous with those of Sibelius, it is neither fair nor accurate to state that Melartin was a Sibelius imitator.
It seems that Germanic music, particularly the music of Mahler and Bruckner, had a more profound influence on Melartin in comparison to Sibelius. But, I do not want to over emphasize this influence, as Melartin's symphonies are not Mahlerian by any means. Melartin makes frequent use of leitmotifs, using such ideas across multiple movements within the same symphony to create cohesion. Each of Melartin's symphonies is boldly and vibrantly orchestrated - lots of brass, of course - but I never got the sense that the music was getting weighed down, or that Melartin was being overly serious. Each symphony is a four movement work, lasting approximately a half of an hour, so none of Melartin's ideas outstay their welcome. From a melodic standpoint, Melartin's symphonies are wholly Nordic, with the composer making frequent use of Finnish folk songs. To provide some insight into the composer's mindset, Melartin uses stylistic descriptors such as "a solitary autumnal melody" or "sounding in Karelian-national fashion" throughout his symphonies.
What I like about these symphonies is their ability to continuously surprise the listener with their unexpected harmonic and stylistic shifts, while maintaining their intense lyricism. This last point should surely be emphasized. Melartin, above all, was a fantastic melodist, and had an uncanny ability to paint picturesque landscapes with his works. The depiction of the Finnish countryside in the third movement of Melartin's "Summer Symphony" (Symphony No. 4), is just one example. This movement has been discussed by other reviewers, and I completely agree - this is a lovely movement. However, Melartin's other slow movements are also remarkably alluring, full of pastoral shadings and modal lyricism. The beautiful andante from the third symphony is another personal favorite.
I think Melartin's scherzos also deserve special mention. The opening themes of these movements often seem simple and lighthearted enough, but the trio sections often contain powerful melancholic, or even ominous, overtones. It is within the scherzo that Melartin proves himself to be a complex contrapuntist. The central section of scherzo from the Symphony No. 3 contains some of the densest orchestral writing I have heard from this time period. The charmingly doleful third movement of the fifth symphony also deserves to be specifically mentioned, both for its delicate, yet imaginative, orchestration, and for the manner in which Melartin craftily weaves two separate melodies together.
But there are distinctive ideas throughout all of Melartin's symphonies; whether it is the soaring multi-tiered French horn calls from the fifth symphony's opening movement, the vigorous march-like finale of the second symphony, or the powerful and sweeping opening to the first symphony, there is always something memorable occurring in these symphonies.
The Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra performs these works well and Ondine's recording quality is superb, as one who has acquired other releases from this intrepid label will expect.
In conclusion, this is a marvelous set, and I have returned to it often. If you enjoy music from the Nationalist Romantic school, you will find that these six highly attractive symphonies have a tremendous amount to offer.