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Sibelius: Scaramouche Op. 71 / Segerstam, Turku Philharmonic

Sibelius / Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Segerst Release Date: 11/13/2015
Label: Naxos Catalog #: 8573511
Composer:  Jean Sibelius Conductor:  Leif Segerstam Orchestra/Ensemble:  Turku Philharmonic Orchestra Number of Discs: 1

Saramouche is, after Kullervo, Sibeliusí largest work in any form, and a strange one it is. Originally the composer thought he had been commissioned to provide a relatively brief suite of dances, only to discover (oops!) that the plan was for him to write a full-length score of continuous music to a scenario that oozes fin-de-siècle decadence. Hereís the deal:

A bunch of bored aristocrats pretends to enjoy a party. Leilon, the host, is dysfunctionally married to Blondelaine, who is frustrated allegedly because he wonít dance with her, but we all know that the dance business is symbolic for other husbandly things that also arenít going too well. Suddenly Scaramouche, your typical hunchbacked viola-playing dwarf turns
Read more up, and with his magic viola he hypnotizes the horny Blondelaine into following him into the woods where he allegedly has his way with her. So naturally she stabs him (in upper-class fashion) as a way of making up with Leilon, who delightedly watches her dance herself to death before himself going insane. End of story.

I offer for your consideration the scene of Blondelaineís Dance of Doom (sound clip). As you can plainly hear, Elektra she ainít, and itís all done rather more effectively in works such as Zemlinskyís A Florentine Tragedy. While very much of its time, Sibelius was not really comfortable writing decadent sleeze (it was a Viennese specialty), though the scoring is imaginative and the music has plenty of otherworldly atmosphere. You can decide for yourself if seventy-one minutes of this is more than you need.

Sibelius did make a suite out of the full score, but if youíre going to do Scaramouche at all you might as well have the whole thing. Järviís version on BIS represents the only competition to this newcomer, and itís very good, but Segerstam captures the musicís weirdness with greater relish and Sibelius completists will surely need this performance to fill out their collections. As the final release in Segerstamsís first rate survey of Sibeliusí theater music for Naxos, you really canít do better.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less