Jean Sibelius: Scaramouche, Op. 71

Leif Segerstam’s traversal of Sibelius’ orchestral scores has been a real treat for me. While I was familiar with the big hits (the symphonies, the Karelia Suite, the violin concerto, et al), I didn’t have a complete picture of Sibelius’ output, and where those great works fit into it.

This series has helped me gain greater insight into Sibelius’ masterpieces — and introduced me to some terrific music besides.

This installment features Sibelius’ score for “Scaramouche,” a full-length pantomime completed in 1913. Sometimes large ballet scores can be enjoyed equally as a complete work and as excerpted movements. After all, you don’t need to know much about what’s gone on before in “The Nutcracker” to enjoy the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies. “Scaramouche” is different, though.

The story is one of supernatural seduction, moving towards its inevitable tragic outcome. The score starts in a light-hearted mood, with charming folk-like melodies. But as the story progresses, the mood changes — but gradually. To my ears, Sibelius’ score (at least in mood) resembled his En Saga. There’s an undercurrent of things not being quite right that moves closer to the forefront as the work progresses.

To me, that gradual building of unease is what makes this score so compelling. To hear just the opening scene or even something from the last part loses that context, and blunts the emotional impact of the music.

My recommendation is to listen to this work straight through — and do so more than once. Only then, I think, can the subtle drama of Sibelius’ score become apparent.

As always, Lief Segerstam delivers a straightforward interpretation of the music. It gives me the impression that Segerstam is trying to keep out of the way and let the music speak for itself. And that music is well-served by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, which plays — as they have throughout the series — with commitment and expressiveness.

Jean Sibelius: Scaramouche, Op. 71
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor
Naxos 8.573511

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