On record: Emilie Mayer: Symphony no.4, Piano Concerto, String Quartet etc

**Ewa Kupiec, ****Yang Tai (pianos) ***Klenke Quartett; */**Neubrandenburger Philharmonie / *Stefan Malzew, **Sebastian Tewinkel

Symphony no.4 in B minor (1851)*
Piano Concerto in B flat major (1850) **
String Quartet no.9 in G minor***
Piano Sonata in D minor (c1860-70)****
Tonwellen-Valse in C****
Marcia in A****

Capriccio C5339 [129’39”]

Recorded December 2017

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio reissues its two discs devoted to the music of Emilie Mayer (1812-1883), a notable figure in German mid-romanticism who came through early upheavals to establish herself as a composer whose considerable output was heard throughout Western and Central Europe.

What’s the music like?

Very much of its time, which is not to suggest intrinsic lack of quality or stylistic anonymity. This is immediately evident from Symphony no.4, fourth of her eight symphonies, premiered in Berlin on 16th March 1851, whose tempestuous opening Allegro is the more impressive for its subtlety of sonata design, then an Adagio which likewise brings to mind Berwald (could Mayer have been at the disastrous Stockholm premiere of his Symphonie serieuse in 1843?); followed by an alternately incisive and lilting scherzo, then a finale whose brevity round off the work in unequivocal fashion.

The Piano Concerto feels relatively uneventful in its expressive range, though the deft interplay of soloist and orchestra is never less than pleasurable – Ewa Kupiec rendering it with a dexterity and poise that bring to mind the concertos of Hummel or Field.

The ninth and last of Mayer’s string quartets is unquestionably the highlight on the other disc. Its seriousness of intent is confirmed by the dedication to her father, who took his own life in 1840, and made tangible with the sombre opening Allegro (anticipatory of Brahms‘s Op. 51 quartets) then a speculative and agitated scherzo. The Adagio brings a degree of consolation, before the finale delivers an unforgiving resolution akin to Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet.

Less well integrated formally, the Piano Sonata is most successful in the vaunting energy of its outer movements, whose considerable virtuosity points to Mayer’s own pianistic abilities – equally in the gracefully alluring Tonwellen Waltz and the engaging March that round off this programme. The Klenke Quartet and Yang Tai prove sympathetic advocates throughout.

Does it all work?

Very much so. Mayer is hardly the only female composer to have been wholly forgotten after her death, but she is assuredly among the finest – not least in her ability to fashion large-scale designs of a formal focus and a cumulative emotional impact in advance of most among her contemporaries. In the two orchestral pieces, the Neubrandenburg Philharmonic – under the respective direction of Stefan Malzew and Sebastian Tewinkel – leaves little to be desired, nor do warmly spacious sound and succinct if (for the most part) informative booklet notes.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Last year saw the spotlight falling on many female composers (and artistic figures in general) whose significance is essentially historical. Mayer is an undoubted exception, however, and it is to be hoped more of her music will soon be recorded and performed.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the Mayer release on the Capriccio website