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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Jean Sibelius - Belshazzar's Feast (Leif Segerstam)


Composer: Jean Sibelius
  • (01) Overture in E major, JS 145
  • (02) Scène de Ballet, JS 163
  • (03-13) Belshazzar's Feast, JS 48
  • (14) Die Sprache der Vögel (The Language of the Birds): Wedding March, JS 62
  • (15) Cortège, JS 54
  • (16) Menuetto, JS 127
  • (17) Processional, Op. 113, No. 6

Pia Pajala, soprano
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra
Leif Segerstam, conductor

Date: 2015
Label: Naxos



This is the second volume in Naxos’s new series of less familiar gems from the pen of Jean Sibelius. Top billing goes to the complete incidental music that the Finnish master supplied for a 1906 production in Helsinki’s Swedish Theatre of Hjalmar Procopé’s drama Belshazzar’s Feast. A genuinely rewarding achievement it comprises, too: try the haunting ‘Song of the Jewish Girl’ from Act 2 (delivered with plangent expression by soprano Pia Pajala), the ravishing ‘Notturno’ (with its inspired writing for solo flute), or the vernally fresh ‘Dance of Life’ and contrastingly sinister ‘Dance of Death’ (which Sibelius amalgamated into a single movement for the concert suite).

It’s followed here by the intriguingly nervy ‘Wedding March’ from The Language of the Birds (intended for Adolph Paul’s eponymous 1911 play but seemingly never used) and the festive polonaise entitled Cortège (1905); thematic ideas from the latter made their way into the exquisite ‘Love Song’ from the second set of Scènes historiques (1912) and concluding procession from The Tempest (1925). Elsewhere, the outer portions of the charming Menuetto (1894) reappear in rather more restrained guise in the context of the King Christian II incidental music, while the very late Processional (1938) contains a falling sequence that momentarily recalls the climax of the Fourth Symphony’s slow movement. The programme kicks off with the endearingly garrulous Overture in E and exuberant, at times slightly madcap Scène de ballet, both dating from 1891 and originally conceived as the first two movements of an aborted symphony (unmistakable echoes of the Karelia music and Kullervo abound).

Leif Segerstam directs all this material with unfailing perception and secures some commendably watchful playing from his excellent Turku band. Sound, too, is undistractingly truthful, full-bodied and atmospheric, and there are useful notes by Dominic Wells. Roll on the next instalment!

-- Andrew AchenbachGramophone

More reviews:


Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957) was a Finnish violinist and composer of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. His music contributed to the development of a feeling of national identity in Finland where he is now celebrated as the country's greatest composer. Sibelius is widely known for his seven symphonies, the violin concerto and the tone poems, especially Finlandia and the Karelia suite. Throughout his career, the composer found inspiration in nature and Nordic mythology. He almost completely stopped composing after 1920s and did not produce any large-scale works in his last thirty years.


Leif Segerstam (born 2 March 1944 in Vaasa, Ostrobothnia, Finland) is a Finnish conductor, composer, violinist, violist and pianist, especially known for his 309 symphonies, along with his other works in his extensive œuvre. Segerstam has conducted in a variety of orchestras since 1963, mostly American, Australian and European orchestras. He is widely known through his recorded discography, which includes the complete symphonies of Blomdahl, Brahms, Mahler, Nielsen, and Sibelius, as well as many works by contemporary composer.


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