Sibelius: Swanwhite - Complete Incidental Music / Segerstam

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No, it’s not the title of new horror flick. Swanwhite and The Lizard remain two of Sibelius least known incidental scores, here played in their complete original versions. As is often the case with these works, the suite that Sibelius made from his Swanwhite music is far more satisfying then the original score. The augmented orchestration for the suite, especially the important part for harp, adds tremendously to the music’s appeal, especially in a piece where that instrument gets mentioned all over the place but had to be left out of the theatrical version for reasons of economy (the original used only thirteen instruments, but the strings are intelligently padded even here). Still, there are plenty of extended bits as initially conceived and the music itself is really, really lovely.

Sibelius never made a suite out of The Lizard, and for good reason. It would have been nearly impossible. The score consists of two movements: a three-minute Adagio followed by a twenty-two minute Grave, both scored for strings. There’s very little actual music here: it’s all atmosphere and repetition of brief melodic patterns. It is, in short, background music, probably perfect for its intended use, and pretty good at home too if you need something moody that never forces you to pay attention. And as always with Sibelius’ string writing, Segerstam’s performance is gorgeous. It’s not often recalled that Segerstam was himself a violinist of considerable ability in his youth, and he pays a great deal of attention to the orchestral string sections in all of his recordings, to excellent effect.

A Lonely Ski Trail and The Countess’ Portrait are both poetic recitations for narrator and strings. I truly loathe spoken text over music, but Riho Eklundh has a very pleasant, mellow voice, and I find Swedish fun to listen to because it sounds like it ought to be in English but, obviously, it isn’t and you’re left wondering why what you are hearing makes no sense. For example, the opening line of A Lonely Ski Trail, “Ett ensamt skidspar” (with a little circle thing over the “a” in “skidspar”), sounds just like someone saying in English “And in some cheap sport.” It’s fun. So is this beautifully played and recorded ongoing series more generally.

-- David Hurwitz,

Leif Segerstam directs all this material with unhurried authority, abundant perception and heaps of character. Likewise, his willing Turku colleagues are with him every step of the way. Admirable production values and useful notes, too. A job well done.

- Gramophone Magazine

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8573341

  • UPC: 747313334179

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Jean Sibelius

  • Conductor: Leif Segerstam

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Turku Philharmonic Orchestra