Sibelius series maintains high standards

This is the fifth installment of Leif Segerstam’s traversal of Sibelius’ orchestral music with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m happy to say that the recording and performance standards remain as high for this volume as they have for the previous four releases.

In terms of music, though, I think there’s a slight decline. As beautiful as these works were, they didn’t quite move me as much as the incidental music to “Jedermann,” or Pelléas et Mélisande (comparisons to Sibelius’ symphonies seem a little unfair).

That’s not to say there isn’t much to like here — there is. And even a lesser work by Sibelius is still a cut above the average in quality. The disc opens with the complete incidental music to “Swanwhite.” This 1908 was written for August Strindberg’s play based on one by Matterlink. While individual sections are quite nice (one would find its way into Sibelius’ 5th Symphony), to my ears the suite never seems to jell.

Much more interesting, I think, is the incidental music to “The Lizard,” written a year later. The drama centers around dream visions, and Sibelius creates some engaging and dramatic sonic dreamscapes of his own. To my ears, some sections sounded quite similar to “Tapiola,” and deliver the same emotional impact.

Also included are two short dramatic works,”A Lonely Ski Trail” from 1948, and “The Countess’ Portrait” from 1905. Both are finely crafted musical miniatures and fit quite well with the larger works on this album.

Jean Sibelius: Swanwhite (complete incidental music); The Lizard, complete incidental music, Op. 8; A Lonely Ski Trail; The Countess’ Portrait
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor; Riho Eklundh, narrator
Naxos 8.5733341

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