The Finnish composer Erkki Melartin (1875-1937) was born in Käkisalm, now in Leningrad Oblast, Russia and known as Priozersk. He studied under Martin Wegelius (1846-1906) in Helsinki and later Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) in Vienna.
Melartin taught and directed music at the Helsinki Music College, later the Helsinki Conservatory and was conductor of the Vyborg Orchestra. He wrote six symphonies all of which have been recorded by Ondine with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonid Grin.
A new release from Ondine www.ondine.net brings together Melartin’s music from his ballet The Blue Pearl, the tone poem Traumgesicht and Marjatta for soprano and orchestra played by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra http://yle.fi/aihe/rso conducted by Hannu Lintu www.hannulintu.fi with soprano, Soile Isokoski www.rayfieldallied.com/artists/soile-isokoski
Traumgesicht, Op. 70 (1910) was premiered in St. Petersburg marking an international breakthrough for Melartin as both composer and conductor. The beautifully shaped opening has reminiscences of Sibelius in its nostalgic theme that is given to a number of instruments before finding a sumptuous orchestral flow. Soon there is a passage of transparent delicacy woven through the orchestra before passages of more drama, as the orchestra rises, speeding through some very fine music with moments of poetic vision. Melartin finds moments of the most lovely poise before a stirring passage precedes a quieter coda.
This is a particularly fine work that receives a terrific performance from Lintu and his Finnish players.
Like Sibelius, Melartin chose to take a text from the Finnish epic the Kalevala to defend Finnish identity during a period of political threat as a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. Marjatta Op. 79, (1914) a legend from Kalevala for soprano and orchestra was premiered in Helsinki in 1915. It has a finely orchestrated opening that sets the atmosphere with a cuckoo like two note motif. Soprano, Soile Isokoski joins with the orchestra, particularly woodwind, bringing a lovely descriptive theme. Soon there is a richer flowing passage with Isokoski bringing a fine tone and beautifully characterised part. Sometimes the soloist is accompanied by just the two note clarinet motif. This is a beautifully shaped, atmospheric performance of a work of great charm and beauty, reaching moments that stirringly evoke a boat on the water. Later a gentler flow is found as the soprano songs ‘one day passes, comes another …’ rising through some quite stirring moments to the coda.
Melartin’s ballet The Blue Pearl (Sininen helmi), Op. 160 was premiered in 1931 and received more than forty performances. It was the first full-length ballet written in Finland. The story is set in the South Seas where a Princess is held captive by a sea monster but later rescued by a shipwrecked Prince. Although the composer adapted a five moment orchestral suite from the ballet, Hannu Lintu gives us eight extracts from Acts I and II adapted by him and Jani Kyllönen.
A two note motif dominates the slow opening of II. Entrée avec pantomime, before percussion bring a rhythmic moment. The opening theme alternates with the faster moving rhythmic theme before a little outburst of swirling orchestra. The music is full of changing tempi and dynamics as Melartin sets out his ideas.
A solo viola and harp open XI. Danse de Nénuphares soon joined by the orchestra who bring some rich sumptuous passages to contrast with the lighter textures. Soon a flowing dance passage arrives pointed up by rippling piano phrases that add colour and brilliance. The music proceeds in forward surges before finding a calmer end.
Lower strings introduce the dramatic VIII. Scène (Tempête) pointed up by drums as the whole orchestra adds weight. A wind machine is heard as the fury of the storm is loosed. Here is Melartin at his most modern with influences such as Stravinsky and Debussy. The dramatic music alternates with quieter little moments creating a real sense of tension.
A harp and solo violin introduce XIV. Pas de deux with a cello soon joining before the orchestra takes the finely shaped theme, various instruments of the orchestra weaving a lovely tapestry.
XVI. Variation II brings a fine string theme through which a solo violin weaves a lovely line, a gentle sonorous theme that gently rises at times, speeding later before a rapidly rising clarinet motif brings the end.
XVII. Coda introduces a jogging theme that lightly moves ahead, soon overlaid by further orchestral lines before moving quickly to the conclusion.
XX. Poissons à voile has a delicate opening for piano and flute soon joined by the strings and then the rest of orchestra in a gently swaying theme. It moves through an unusual passage for piano, flute and cello before an exquisitely shaped coda.
XVI. Act II: Finale (II acte), tempo di mazurka brings a nicely pointed mazurka, with Melartin using a variety of orchestral ideas to vary the music before a rumbustious end.
There is some really fine music here that adds considerably to our knowledge of Finnish music during Sibelius’ own lifetime. The performances by Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra are first rate as is soloist Soile Isokoski. They receive an excellent recording made in the Helsinki Music Centre, Finland. There are excellent booklet notes from Tuire Rante-Meyer and Jani Kyllönen together with full Finnish texts and English translations.
A great addition to Ondine’s Melartin catalogue.