in Reviews

De-marginalising repertoire, one disc at a time

by Kare Eskola

"There are gems to be discovered in this repertoire, disdained by contemporaries and marginalised by history."

Recently, here in Finland we have been able to take pride in determined efforts to broaden the repertoire of classical music on a more equitable basis. The most concerted of these efforts is the extensive HUOM project, where scholars have delved into the archives to retrieve works by neglected women composers to be programmed by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, but chamber musicians have been similarly active in this field. A case in point is the disc Other Finnish Works for Violin by violinist Mirka Malmi and pianist Tiina Karakorpi.

Tschetschulin, Moberg, von Knorring, Holmberg, Netzel and von Bronsart were composers born around the middle of the 19th century. Their native language was Swedish, and they were cosmopolitans who inhabited not Finland specifically but the European realm of music in general, even if that realm studiously ignored women who wrote music. Nevertheless, there are gems to be discovered in this repertoire, disdained by contemporaries and marginalised by history. Tschetschulin, a violin virtuoso herself, wrote salon pieces with a glowing charm. Netzel’s confident sensitivity appeals strongly to the listener, and Holmberg’s Andante sounds like it wants to be an orchestral piece when it grows up. The concluding track on the disc, von Bronsart’s Phantasie, proceeds in soaring melodic arcs in a sort of Wagner-for-the-salon idiom.

Showcasing a marginalised gender active in what was very much a backwater of the musical world in the 19th century, the disc obviously contains some weaker links too. For Mirka Malmi, however, bringing this repertoire to light is a matter of honour, as witness her carefully crafted and elegant performance whose sound – with metal-wound gut strings, no less – harks back to the golden age of violin music. Tiina Karakorpi plays an 1882 Bösendorfer, imbuing the music with nuances and a dynamic force far beyond what is printed on the page. Together, they offer a performing tradition for this music that serves to nudge it out of the margin and bring it a little closer to the mainstream.

Other Finnish Works for Violin

Composers: Agnes Tschetschulin, Ida Moberg, Minna von Knorring, Betzy Holmberg, Laura Netzel and Ingeborg von Bronsart.
Mirka Malmi, violin; Tiina Karakorpi, piano. 

Alba ABCD 507.

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi