- The Lonely Ski Trail (Ett ensemt skidspår), melodrama for speaker, harp & strings, JS 77b
The complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies by Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam has gained wide acclaim as well as a few doubters who find the performances lacking in forward momentum. Even those objections can hardly be raised in the case of Sibelius' incidental music, where you're missing the original stage presentation, and a more detailed, expressive performance is desirable. Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, well recorded by Naxos in its own hall, come through in a pair of little-known theatrical scores here. The incidental music, much more conservative tonally and much more oriented toward pure melody, may seem to inhabit a different world from the symphonies, but the way the melodies depend on little turns of rhythm sets them apart from the music of Grieg, which they superficially resemble. The strength of Segerstam's reading is the way he defines these so clearly. Sample the first number of the chamber-sized incidental music for August Strindberg's "Svanevit (Swanwhite), JS 189," of 1908, and you may well find yourself drawn into the whole. The score for Mikael Lybeck's "The Lizard" (1909) is a bit more expressionist in mood, and the album ends with two more genuine Sibelius rarities, settings of spoken poems. "Ett ensamt skidspar" (The Lonely Ski Trail), although premiered in 1948 and given that date here, was composed in the mid-1920s. Taken as a group, these are obscure Sibelius pieces for which Segerstam has made an excellent case for revival.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Maestro Segerstam and the Turku P.O. continue their excellent survey of the music Sibelius composed for the theatre. There are several premiers here: Odlan (The Lizard) in this 26 minute version for string orchestra; as well as 2 dramatic recitations: A Lonely Ski Trail and The Countess’ Portrait. Swanwhite has appeared previously with Jarvi and Vanska. This complete recording clocks in at nearly 30 minutes. All of the works featured here are illustrative of the composer’s supreme ability to conjure mood and atmosphere. Unadorned lyric ideas are at the forefront. There is an avoidance of tempo and dynamic extremes and instead a gracefulness of expression and lightness of texture. In the case of Odlan, a subtly evoked aura of evil is accomplished with an economy of means. Great music? Perhaps not. But attractive writing that offers another window into the composer’s unique conceptual world. The performances are just fine. The closely miked, dry sonics suit the material. Good liner notes.
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.