Melcher Melchers (1882–1961)
La Kermesse (1920)
Élégie (1919)
Symphony in D minor (1925)
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Jaime Martín
rec. 2022, Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden
Ondine ODE1418-2 [61]

Melcher Melchers started life in Stockholm as Henrik Melcher Svensson. He began his musical studies at the Conservatory there in 1896 at the young age of fourteen, graduating as a music teacher in 1903. He played both violin and viola. 1905 was a significant year when he decided to go abroad, first to Brussels to learn the art of conducting, and then on to Paris to study sculpture and music. Once there he was in two minds whether to opt for art or music. The latter won out in the end, though he did befriend artists such as Picasso, Modigliani and Matisse. His musical studies took place at the Conservatoire National de Musique with George Casadesus. It was around this time that he changed his surname from Svensson to Melchers, considering it sounded more French. He remained in Paris until after World War 1, when he returned to Stokholm. He taught at the Conservatory in the city from 1925, and in 1939 was appointed a professor, a post he held until 1947.

His music can be described as traditional with a French accent. Initially he gravitated towards German Late Romanticism, but the French influence exerted a decisive pull, and he became influenced by César Franck, Debussy, Ravel, Satie and Les Six. His compositions include a symphony, symphonic poems, a violin concerto, two piano concertos string quartet, sonatas for violin and cello and twenty songs.

The disc opens with two strikingly contrasting symphonic poems, each receiving their world premiere recordings. The first was inspired by a painting by Peter Paul Rubens titled La Kermesse (1635-1638). It depicts an exuberant festival in the Flemish countryside. Melchers captures the atmosphere to perfection in this light-hearted, ebullient score. There  are children playing, people dancing and food and wine flowing in abundance. The rhythmic abandon and colourful orchestration vividly convey the joie de vivre of the scene.

Élégie couldn’t be more different. Written a year before La Kermesse in 1919 it’s dedicated to the memory of the composer’s mother who had recently died. It didn’t, however, receive a premiere until 1924, when it was performed under the baton of Georg Schnéevoigt. Melchers employs dark, sombre sonorites to convey the solemn nature of the subject matter. A static quality pervades the music.

The three-movement Symphony in D minor is Melchers most important composition. Scored for a large orchestra, the work was written in 1925. The composer entered it for a competition a year later organized by the Stockholm Concert Society for the inauguration of a new concert hall in the city. It took second place to Kurt Atterberg’s vocal work Sången. From its first performance it elicited a positive response from the critics. The opening movement is the most extensive of the three. It brims over with drama and powerful climaxes. The contrasting lyrical moments convey an enchanted world of bucolic idyll. A beautiful slow movement overflows with melancholy and wistful regret. The finale recalls the festive mood of La Kermesse, joyous, optimistic and uplifting.

The Gävle Symphony Orchestra under Jaime Martín offer spirited and persuasive performances of these attractive works. They’ve been captured in the best possible sound. It’s worth pointing out that there is another version of the Symphony on the Phono Suecia label which was given a thumbs-up review by Rob Barnett back in 2003. It’s coupled with the Second Piano Concerto and is still available. I haven’t heard it.

Stephen Greenbank

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