Jul 12

Joseph Swensen, Scottish Chamber Orchestra – Sibelius Theatre Music (2003)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/96 kHz | Time – 65:45 minutes | 1,21 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Master, Official Digital Download | Artwork: Covers & Digital booklet | Source: LINN

The foundations of Sibeliuss reputation are his symphonies, tone poems and increasingly his songs but the music he wrote for the stage throughout his creative life includes some of his finest scores. This disc presents his theatre music from 2 distinct periods – the 1900s (contemporary with his Violin Concerto, and the Second and Third Symphonies) and the 1920s, including some of the last works of his to survive.

This album could have been merely a compilation of Sibelius’s incidental music were it not for Andante festivo, written not for a stage play but for a factory! Undeniably attractive, it doesn’t seem particularly festive, and Joseph Swensen – who omits the optional timpani parta – does nothing to revise my opinion.

The four numbers from Belshazzar’s Feast are infrequently recorded. Composers from cold countries bring out their brightest colours when painting Asia (think of Nielsen’s Aladdin), and Sibelius’s response to Hjalmar Procopé’s forgotten drama is exotic, yet unmistakably Sibelian, particularly in the ‘Nocturne’, with its beautiful flute melody. Swensen is at least as good as Jukka-Pekka Saraste……

More familiar yet is The Tempest. There might have been room for the first suite too had Linn omitted the Andante Festivo or the over recorded Valse Triste. Here and in Pelleas, Swensen comes up against the estimable Sir Thomas Beecham, who nevertheless omits numbers in both. Beecham and the RPO sound richer and make a more imposing impression than Swensen and the Scottish players, although the current performance is appropriately moody.

With Pelleas, we reach well-charted territory. (The BBC’s The Sky At Night never reached the United States, but those of us who have been reading booklet notes forever know that ‘At the Castle Gate’ is that programme’s theme.) I like the menace that Swensen fiinds in this music, and also in The Tempest. ‘At the Seashore’, (the number Beecham omits) is quite threatening; Nature’s violence anticipates the human violence lying ahead. Tuomas Ollila and Paavo Jarvi (especially) are plain beside Swensen.

Without overdoing it, the Scottish string players wash some of the colour from their tone by holding back on the vibrato. This was a good idea and it works well, so kudos to all for giving us a slightly different look at a very familiar piece. Roy McEwan’s booklet notes generously put the individual numbers into the context of the larger drama. Linn’s engineering is top notch.


01 – Pelleas and Melisande At the Castle Gate
02 – Pelleas and Melisande Melisande
03 – Pelleas and Melisande At the Seashore
04 – Pelleas and Melisande A Spring in the Park
05 – Pelleas and Melisande The Three Blind Sisters
06 – Pelleas and Melisande Pastorale
07 – Pelleas and Melisande Melisande at the Spinning-Wheel
08 – Pelleas and Melisande Entr’acte
09 – The Death of Melisande
10 – Kuolema Valse Triste
11 – Belshazzars Feast Oriental Procession
12 – Belshazzars Feast Solitude
13 – Belshazzars Feast Nocturne
14 – Belshazzars Feast Khadra’s Dance
15 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Chorus of the Winds
16 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Intermezzo
17 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Dance of the Nymphs
18 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Prospero
19 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Song 1
20 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Song 2
21 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Miranda
22 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Naiads
23 – The Tempest: Suite No. 2 Dance Episode
24 – Andante Festivo

Produced by Andrew Keener.
Engineered by Philip Hobbs and Calum Malcolm.
Recorded at the Usher Hall Edinburgh, U.K., March 2003.