Sibelius: Pelléas et Mélisande Conducted by Leif Segerstam

Performed by Pia Pajala, Sari Nordqvist; Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Leif Segerstam.

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Sibelius: Pelléas et Mélisande
WORKS: Pelléas et Mélisande; Morceau romantique; Musik zu einer Szene; Valse lyrique; Valse chevaleresque
PERFORMER: Pia Pajala (soprano), Sari Nordqvist (mezzo); Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573301

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The latest two instalments in Leif Segerstam’s new series mirror his excellent Belshazzar’s Feast programme (reviewed October 2015) – a large stage score with lesser-known fillers. After The Tempest, the Pelleas music is probably Sibelius’s finest, not least because it challenges comparison with so many other composers from Fauré to Debussy and Schoenberg. Sibelius’s vision is the sparest. Sketched in deceptively clear, light, almost chamber textures, with touches of folk melody, it nevertheless catches Maeterlinck’s brooding atmosphere no less effectively, especially in the sombre splendour of the opening ‘At the Castle Gate’ – now widely associated with the BBC’s The Sky At Night. Segerstam conducts with impressive gravitas and measured detail, though one misses the shivering grandeur of, for example, Thomas Beecham’s recording of the suite. The complete score really adds only one full piece more, but it does suit the context of the play, with Pia Pajala providing the words of Melisande’s song. The fillers have their own interest, demonstrating that Valse Triste isn’t just the potboiler some called it, but reflects the composer’s slightly unexpected love affair with the waltz – from romantic student days in Paris and Berlin, perhaps?

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Sibelius created the Jedermann score for a Finnish production of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s adaptation of the English morality play Everyman. At the director’s request, he integrated the music closely with words and action; consequently it’s mostly a sequence of fragments, less immediately involving on its own. There are some starkly original segments, the Largo especially, attractive choral songs and final Gloria, but the overall effect is somewhat funereal. The gloom’s deepened by the grave couplings, coloured by years of serious illness and war, and Segerstam’s austere pace. Personally I’d prefer Osmo Vänskä’s livelier BIS version, coupled with the Belshazzar Suite. Michael Scott Rohan