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E Mayer: Overtures; Symphony No. 3 etc

Mecklenburgische Staatskapelle Schwerin/Mark Rohde (MDG)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

E Mayer
Overtures; Symphony No. 3, ‘Sinfonie Militar’
Mecklenburgische Staatskapelle Schwerin/Mark Rohde
MDG MDG9012239 (CD/SACD)   68:28 mins


Last year saw the German publication of a book whose title translates as ‘Emilie Mayer: Europe’s Greatest Female Composer’. Certainly, it’s cheering to find a 19th-century woman talented, ambitious and wealthy enough to sustain the production of eight symphonies, seven quartets and more than a dozen concert overtures. But a sense of proportion is still useful for a composer whose fetching melodic lines often jostle next to the banal, and whose sense of structure could sometimes be described as either experimental or lacking.

The strongest piece in this latest Mayer anthology, the unusual Sinfonie militair (premiered in 1850), features its own clumsy stitchings, though virtues rise to the top with the adagio’s lyrical elegance, the scherzo’s restless energy, and the finale’s military panache. Mark Rohde and his lively Schwerin orchestra also make a decent case for the boldly characterised Faust Overture of 1880 and much of the D minor Overture, a shape-shifting romantic drama that ends with an uplifting harmonic sequence that quite takes the listener by surprise. There’s modest joy, too, in the C major Overture, at least once the composer concentrates on the piece’s vigorous main theme.

If only the muscular and imaginative weren’t so jumbled up with the insipid or flat-footed; and if only the thinking wasn’t so itchy, with bits and pieces coming and going just like the echoes of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Donizetti. Emilie Mayer is certainly worth discovering and exploring; but let’s politely put the highest superlatives to one side.

Geoff Brown

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