Leif Segerstam Conducts Sibelius’s Swanwhite – Complete Instrumental Music

Narrated by Riko Eklundh and performed by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra.

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius
WORKS: Swanwhite
PERFORMER: Riko Eklundh (narrator); Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573341

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Sibelius plus Strindberg sounds like a recipe for unmitigated Nordic gloom, but in fact the play Svanevit (Swanwhite) is a Symbolist fairy tale, relatively sunlit and delicate, the playwright’s response to Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, for which Sibelius had provided memorable music. Apparently Strindberg’s ex-wife Harriet Bosse, who played both Melisande and Swanwhite, suggested Sibelius should again write the incidental music.

Sibelius, enthralled by Strindberg’s earlier work, created a score very much in his Pelléas vein to accompany the story of the neglected princess Swanwhite, but brighter and more magical, especially the pieces associated with her guardian Swanmother. The finale rises to a quasi-religious chorale as Swanwhite restores her lover to life. Segerstam conducts with the measured, grave pace and detail that characterises the rest of this series, enhanced by the Turku players. The seven-movement orchestrated suite, which contains most of the actual music, has been frequently recorded, but this is welcome as the only original stage version except for Osmo Vänskä’s, slightly warmer but available only on an expensive BIS box set.

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Coupled here are the briefer string ensemble score for Odlan (The Lizard), a sinister Symbolist drama in which good and evil women battle for a man’s soul, and two melodrama monologues, the delicate Countess’s Portrait and the bleak Lonely Ski-Trail, perhaps less involving for English-speaking audiences but very atmospheric. Michael Scott Rohan