Jan Willem de Vriend gives Mayer symphonies energetic readings

This is the second installment in CPO’s Emilie Mayer symphonic cycle. In the first, Jan Willem de Vriend and the NDR Radiophilharmonie performed Mayer’s first two symphonies. This release includes her third symphony as well as her seventh, possibly her last.

Symphony No. 3, “Military” was Mayer’s career-making work. Sort of. It premiered at an exclusive concert of all-Mayer music. Mayer carefully organized the event. She supervised the rehearsals and cannily selected the guest list. It included the most influential musicians, critics, and taste-makers.

And it worked. Critics were uniformly effusive in their praise of her music, especially the symphony. The publicity helped her achieve performances in other cities throughout Germany.

But at the heart of it, the critics all said the same thing. Pretty good — for a woman. In time the momentum slowed. Mayer found it increasingly difficult to get her music performed by chamber ensembles, never mind orchestras.

This release — as does the previous one — shows just how criminally unfair those assessments were.

The “Military” symphony is a spirited work. One critic at the premiere wrote, “The themes flow lightly through the knowledgeably demarcated realm of tone colors, which change with taste, rather often even with surprising elegance.” Not bad for anyone, regardless of gender.

I agree with that assessment. Mayer handles her material skillfully. And while themes develop in a logical fashion, that logic is often only apparent in hindsight. The listener is constantly surprised at what comes next.

Symphony No. 7 in F minor was composed six years later. It was never performed in Mayer’s lifetime. There are hints that she wrote one more symphony, but no trace has been found.

The work is still pure Mayer. Themes unfold and develop in fresh and exciting ways. The music rises and falls, moving from one dramatic point to the next. Mayer’s skills as a composer and orchestrator are on full display with this work.

Jan Willem de Vriend leads the NDR Radiophilharmonie in some excellent performances. He keeps the energy level high, and the ensemble sound controlled. Mayer’s tutti climaxes lean more towards Mendelssohn than Beethoven. And that’s how de Vriend plays it.

The orchestra has a warm ensemble sound. Solo instruments sound with clarity, letting us appreciate the subtlety of Mayer’s orchestrations.

The score for Mayer’s Symphony No. 5 is lost, as is the one for No. 8. So that leaves just two more symphonies for de Vriend and the NDR Radiophilharmonie to record. I look forward to the completion of this cycle.

Emilie Mayer: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 7
NDR Radiophilharmonie; Jan Willem de Vriend, conductor

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