A 2015 Top Ten Selection: Rare and Familiar Sibelius, Great Performances from Segerstam

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

The complete incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande isn’t so different from the familiar suite–there’s a song for Mélisande, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same, with no annoying fragments, fillers, and bits of pantomime or stage business. Segerstam’s performance here is simply gorgeous. Granted, he’s sometimes a bit slow, appropriately so in Mélisande’s death scene, but the playing has such beauty and concentration that it works hypnotically. The opening prelude (later called “At the Castle Gate”) gains real majesty in this interpretation; and has the spinning wheel scene ever sounded quite this sinister? Don’t be fooled by the brevity of the movements: this is a major work. Segerstam knows it, and plays it like one.

The couplings range from the light and fluffy (the triptych Valse Lyrique, Autrefois, Valse chevaleresque, which Mrs. Sibelius detested) to the unusual. Try the luscious little Morceau romantique sur un motif de Monsieur Jakob von Julin: the title is almost as long as the music. It’s a delightful waltz that Sibelius wrote for a children’s hospital benefit concert, and what a great encore it would make. Musik zu einer Szene was revised as Op. 45/2, the Dance-Intermezzo. I frankly prefer this original, which at more than six minutes is over twice as long, and far more varied in mood (sound clip). If you know the revision, this will surprise you. As with Pelléas, the performances are simply as fine as they can be. The two ladies sing well, however briefly, the whole production is sumptuously recorded, and Naxos includes the sung texts with English translations. Classy.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Pelléas et Mélisande (complete); Musik zu einer Szene; Valse lyrique, Autrefois, Valse chevaleresque; Morceau romantique sur un motif de Monsieur Jakob von Julin

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