WORKS: The Maiden in the Tower; Pelléas et Mélisande (incidental music); Valse triste
PERFORMER: Solveig Kringelborn, Lilli Paasikivi, Lars-Erik Jonsson, Carry Magee; Ellerhein Girls Choir, Estonian National Male Choir & SO/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45493 2
This short one-act opera may not be top-drawer Sibelius, but no previous encounters with the work – in live performance and on disc – had prepared me for the appreciable impact it makes here. The story remains problematic, and Sibelius grew to realise that in his only complete opera he had wasted some good music on a conventional tale.
Based on a popular Swedish ballad, the opera tells of an innocent maiden, accosted and imprisoned in a castle tower by the bailiff, disowned by her father in the belief that she has ‘lost her honour for gold’, but saved by her lover and the timely arrival of the chatelaine. From the opening bars, the music is unmistakably Sibelius in his lighter vein, and the beguilingly balletic overture recalls the Karelia Suite. Solveig Kringelborn sings glowingly in the title role, and is haunting in her prayer. Carry Magee performs strongly as the baddie, and Lars-Erik Jonsson is sincere as her rescuer. Paavo Järvi makes a more compelling case for the score than his father Neeme managed on his world premiere recording of nearly 20 years ago.
Pelléas et Mélisande reminds us that the list of composers attracted to Maeterlinck’s play does not end with Debussy, Schoenberg or Fauré Sibelius’s incidental music, along with another piece with origins in the theatre, Valse triste, receives an eloquent performance from these Estonian forces. John Allison