Sibelius

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius
WORKS: Belshazzar’s Feast; Scène de ballet; Overture in E; Die Sprache der Vögel; Cortège; Menuetto; Processional
PERFORMER: Pia Pajala (soprano); Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573300

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This new disc is welcome, for several reasons. While there are several recordings of the four-movement Belshazzar orchestral suite, the only other complete recording, Osmo Vänskä’s, is available solely in an expensive BIS collection. What’s more, Leif Segerstam’s is every bit as good and confirms that this unusual stage music ranks with the composer’s better-known Pelléas et Mélisande score. Sibelius often criticised contemporary composers’ lush exoticism, claiming he offered ‘a glass of pure cold water’ instead; but Belshazzar shows he could manage sinuous Eastern promise with the best, albeit with characteristic Sibelian themes and leaner textures. ‘The Jewish Girl’s Song’, based on ‘By the waters of Babylon’, is particularly beautiful and has become known as a piano-acompanied song, but it’s most atmospheric in its original orchestral form, touchingly sung here by Pia Pajala. The two dances, of Life and Death, also stand out, along with the shimmering Notturno, but they all gain from their context.

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The lesser pieces here are all attractive, especially the jaunty Cortège and Menuetto and the slightly grotesque Wedding March. Of extra interest, though, are the Overture in F, somewhat folksy and Karelia-like, and the feverishly waltzing Scène de Ballet, which represent the remains of Sibelius’s first attempt at a symphony. He was probably wise to abandon them, but the music itself is enjoyable. Segerstam has become one of the very finest Sibelius conductors, and his Turku orchestra rightly plays as if these were all major works, making this highly recommendable. Michael Scott Rohan