Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Jedermann (Jokamies/Everyman), Op. 83 (1916) [49:18]
Two Serious Melodies for violin and orchestra, Op. 77 (1914-15) [10:17]
In memoriam, Op. 59 (1910) [13:15]
Pia Pajala (soprano), Tuomas Katajala (tenor), Nicholas Söderlund (bass)
Mikaela Palmu (violin)
Cathedralis Aboensis Choir
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
rec. 2014, Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland. DDD
NAXOS 8.573340 [72:50]
Leif Segerstam continues his series with the Turku Philharmonic of recordings of Sibelius incidental music here. He has already given us
Kuolema, King Christian II, Belshazzar’s Feast and
Pelléas et Mélisande. Now with Jedermann his task was considerably more difficult due to the fact that Sibelius never prepared an orchestral suite as he had for much of his other incidental music. There was a good reason for this, because the music itself relies to a great degree on the play’s text and much of it does not stand as well on its own. That said, there is more than enough here to sustain interest and virtually all of it sounds like no one but Sibelius. It is just that most of the music is slow and sombre. Five of the 17 tracks allotted for Jedermann here are marked largo, adagio di molto, or lento, and much of this is quiet. The first eleven tracks, lasting only 13 minutes, on the other hand, contain some lively and tuneful music.
Jedermann begins with loud brass chords followed by bells playing an interval of a fourth that represent God’s disappointment with mankind, represented by Everyman, and a request of Death to take Everyman. There follow five short vocal movements featuring the soloists and choir. The first and longest of these is a delightful Dance Song, sung by the tenor and choir and superbly performed here. The other soloists have less to do, though they perform very well, too. The choir does not re-enter until the last track when they sing, “Gloria in excelsis Deo”. This represents the defeat of the Devil and eternal life for Everyman, ending the work on an upbeat note. It is also unusual, as the male chorus chants underneath the choir’s “Gloria”. However, all of this is only a third of the score with the rest being slow and rather static. Some of the slow music has the added interest of an organ chorale with strings (track 14) that in its repetition anticipates Arvo Pärt’s “holy minimalism”, and later there is the unusual combination of organ, piano, and strings. When all is said and done, there is more to Jedermann than is revealed on a first or second hearing even if one’s patience is tried at times. The score could not receive a more dedicated or idiomatic performance than the one it receives here. Segerstam continues to impress as one of the best Sibelius conductors around and he is given a recording of depth and richness.
To fill out the disc, Naxos apparently decided to retain the mood of Jedermann, for the rest is also dark and subdued. I found the Two Serious Melodies for violin and orchestra inferior to the Violin Concerto or the composer’s Humoresques. The first, titled Cantique, is wistful and melancholy and resembles the Violin Concerto in some ways. It contains rumbling timpani and prominent use of harp. Violinist Palmu is a fine exponent, contributing an admirable performance. This piece, which ends on E-flat major, is somewhat lighter than its companion, Devotion. Palmu’s rich tone really tells there and the full sound is to the music’s advantage. Devotion is agitated and restless compared with Cantique and darker, ending in the key of D minor—the key of the Violin Concerto. Although these two pieces don’t add up to much, they don’t detract from the programme either. They seem to belong here and continue the overall mood of the music on the CD.
The disc concludes with what is arguably the best of the works on offer, In memoriam, which Sibelius composed after a life-saving throat operation and at a time when he was preoccupied with death. He had heard Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in Berlin in 1905 and that apparently left a lasting impression on him. There are obvious echoes of the symphony’s first movement funeral march in this piece, though harmonically it sounds wholly Sibelian. Segerstam and the Turku orchestra give a powerful account and one I prefer to Osmo Vänskä’s fine Lahti Symphony recording (review review). Segerstam’s has deeper sound, slightly broader tempos, and more flexible phrasing.
Segerstam continues to do Sibelius proud and anyone collecting his series with this orchestra should not be deterred from adding this volume. Granted, you have to be in the right mood to appreciate such a dose of death-haunted music. While the CD booklet contains Dominic Wells’ detailed notes and the Finnish texts and English translations of the vocal numbers, the cover depicting the “grim reaper” says it all.