Sibelius: The Misery Album

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Sibelius never made a suite out of his incidental music to Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann (Everyman), and for good reason. There’s nothing here that works independently of the play. The individual tracks range in timing from eleven seconds to thirteen minutes. There are four tiny initial movements, a series of songs requiring three soloists (soprano, tenor, and bass), a brief Allegro molto, and then a whopping sequence nearly half an hour long containing a Largo, two movements marked Adagio di molto, a Largo e mesto marked additionally–in case you didn’t get the point–“Doloroso” and “Con grande dolore,” a Lento, and a final Gloria with bells, organ, and choir. It makes Shostakovich’s last string quartet sound positively peppy in comparison.

Much of the music is athematic (check out that Largo e mesto: eight minutes of utter nothingness), and aside from being exceptionally slow it’s also exceptionally repetitious. You could make the case that Sibelius is anticipating much contemporary music–Arvo Pärt at his droopiest has nothing on this–but what would be the point? And it has to be said that Segerstam and his Turku players make a meal of it. The performance is gorgeous, unflinchingly dark and anguished, and if you’re going to do it at all you might as well revel to the max in the music’s wrist-slitting despondency.

The couplings are particularly well chosen. The Two Serious Melodies, Op. 77, for violin and orchestra, are lovely, virtually unknown, and positively riotous after Jedermann. In memoriam is a funeral march inspired by the more lugubrious music of Liszt, and it too sounds almost uplifting here despite Segerstam’s measured tempo. It was smart of Naxos and Segerstam to find all of Sibelius’ most miserable music and stick it on one convenient CD, with wonderfully apt cover art so that you know exactly what you’re in for. If you feel depressed, your life is a mess, and you’re sunk in an abyss of despair, by all means try this disc. It will convince you that you have a long way to go before you hit bottom.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Jedermann (complete); Two Serious Melodies, Op. 77; In memoriam

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