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CD Review

Jean Sibelius

  • Overture in A minor, JS 144
  • Kuolema - Complete Incidental Music, Op. 44 1,2
  • Two Songs from Twelfth Night, Op. 60 2
  • King Kristian II - Complete Incidental Music, Op. 27 2
1 Pia Pajala, soprano
2 Waltteri Torikka, baritone
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
Naxos 8.573299 71:16
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This CD contains mostly festive, light, and mellow music by Jean Sibelius that you rarely encounter in the concert hall or, for that matter, on disc. The first work here is the Overture in A minor, which might strike you as somewhat bombastic in the opening and closing sections of its seven-minute length. But the more you listen to the music, the more you realize it is very well crafted, even if it is lightweight stuff that is often brassy. The performance by the Turku Philharmonic is quite spirited and committed, Leif Segerstam showing again he is a master of Sibelius interpretation.

The ensuing work, Kuolema, in its six-movement form comprising the complete incidental music, is another great success. The opening waltz was later arranged by Sibelius as the Valse triste, which as most are aware has become very popular. Segerstam delivers a fine reading of it and lavishes the same care on the other five movements. The two haunting vocal numbers in the work, Paavali's Song and Elsa's Song, are beautifully sung by, respectively, baritone Waltteri Torikka and soprano Pia Pajala. Torikka also turns in excellent renditions of the pair of numbers in Two Songs from Twelfth Night (Come Away, Death; Hey, Ho, The Wind and The Rain).

The Complete Incidental Music to King Christian II is the closing work and, at 35:00, is the longest on the disc. It doesn't break from the generally light moods of the other music, but it is a bit more colorful and perhaps even more exotic: try the folkish, foot-stomping Musette (#2) or Nocturne (#5), where Sibelius, usually sparing in his use of percussion, spices the climax with a tambourine. Waltteri Torikka turns up once again to sing splendidly in #3, Fool's Song of the Spider. Segerstam draws fine, idiomatic playing from the Turku players, allowing the music to speak for itself, understated and mellow as it mostly is, especially in its generally transparent orchestration.

Naxos provides informative notes, from Dominic Wells, vivid and well balanced sound and full texts for the songs. While this may not be top-drawer Sibelius, it is good music nonetheless and shows that this iconic Finnish composer could write light music of high quality. Recommended.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings