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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Jean Sibelius - Swanwhite (Leif Segerstam)


Composer: Jean Sibelius
  • (01-14) Svanevit (Swanwhite), incidental music, JS189
  • (15-16) Ödlan (The Lizard), Op. 8
  • (17) Ett ensamt skidspår (A Lonely Ski Trail), JS77b
  • (18) Grevinnans konterfej (The Countess’ Portrait), JS88

Riho Eklundh, narrator (17, 18)
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra
Leif Segerstam, conductor

Date: 2015
Label: Naxos



The penultimate instalment in this absorbing series launches with what is only the second-ever complete recording of the original score that Sibelius provided for the hugely successful April 1908 premiere (at Helsinki’s Swedish Theatre) of August Strindberg’s fairy-tale play Svanevit (‘Swanwhite’). Lasting nearly half an hour and comprising 14 numbers, it may make for a less satisfying sequence than the seven-movement suite that Sibelius devised for the concert hall, but still boasts much that is wholly characteristic and rewarding. Listen out for some intriguing sidelong glances to the slow movements of the Third and Fifth symphonies – and do I hear a teasing echo of Valse triste during ‘The harp falls briefly silent’ (tr 7)?

Don’t be hoodwinked by the early opus number appended to the incidental music for Mikael Lybeck’s drama, Ödlan (‘The Lizard’); it actually dates from 1909-10 – and a fascinating discovery it proves, too. Luminously scored for string orchestra, it’s a 25-minute canvas in two parts containing much duskily beautiful and splendidly atmospheric invention, not to mention some fascinating harmonic and textural foreshadowings of Tapiola. Bringing up the rear are two brief melodramas in Swedish, both sensitively narrated by Riho Eklundh. A Lonely Ski Trail (to a text by Bertel Gripenberg) was composed in 1925 but not heard until December 1948. It’s a haunting miniature (the final measures are sheer magic) and leaves a rather more enduring impression than does The Countess’s Portrait (a 1905 setting of Zachris Topelius).

Suffice to report, 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.

-- Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone

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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