Friday, 13 November 2015

Sibelius’ Jedermann brings some remarkably fine orchestral ideas that every Sibelian will want to hear on this new recording for Naxos from Leif Segerstam, the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and Cathedralis Aboensis Choir

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) wrote the music for Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s (1874-1929) version of the medieval morality play Jedermann in 1916, the premiere taking place in October that year at the National Theatre in Helsinki with the Helsinki City Orchestra under Robert Kajanus. The composer seemed to think highly of the music which was revived with great success in the jubilee years 1935 and 1965.

Leif Segerstam has made a new recording of Jedermann with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra  and Cathedralis Aboensis Choir with soprano, Pia Pajala tenor, Tuomas Katajala  and bass Nicholas Söderlund  for Naxos as part of his series of lesser known Sibelius.


Jedermann, Op. 83 (1916) opens with a brief Largo where horns sound over the orchestra in a dramatic sequence that leads into another Largo with the tolling of tubular bells over the dramatic orchestra. Timpani lead into the Allegro which opens with a hushed, fast moving string melody that slowly rises with textures pointed up by woodwind

Allegro comodo brings a more sweeping variation of the melody before Tanssilaulu (Dance Song) where the fine textured voice of tenor Tuomas Katajala joins in a rhythmic Me kutsun saimme ystävän luo, se meidät tänne nyt tuo’ (A friend has invited us here, his name is Everyman) which has much of the feel of a Finnish folk song. The chorus join in the buoyant song bringing a light and open texture to the rhythmic orchestral pulse.

After the brief On riemussa hetket mennehet taas the fine voice of soprano, Pia Pajala joins in the more subdued Kun vettä sataa, niin kastutaan (Well when it rains, it is wet) leading to Maat ja metsät viheriöivät (The forests are becoming green all around) where Tuomas Katajala joins with both bringing a real Finnish flavour.

The tempo picks with Oi, Lempi, armas Lempi! (Alas, alas, Lady Love) with tenor and chorus in a typically Sibelian fast section. There are some lively woodwind passages before the chorus bring Maat ja metsät viheriöivät, (The forests are becoming green all around) an a capella section with this choir bringing a very fine texture and a lovely directness. Strings introduce the orchestral Allegro molto with some really vintage Sibelius, Segerstam drawing some beautiful textures and building in strength into the Largo, sempre misterioso – the longest sustained section in this work.

A solo violin opens, gently followed by woodwind as the theme slowly, gently and quietly leads forward, weaving some lovely sounds. Other strings enter producing hushed, beautifully textured passages using a pared down instrumental ensemble, slowly developing an eloquently drawn section. Timpani quietly sound briefly before the music slowly goes on its way. Sibelius created a wonderful, sustained remoteness in this atmospheric section. The strings rise subtly in strength bringing a little warmth and greater sonority to the music before fading gently to the hushed coda as the music sinks into the mists.

Adagio di molto I rises out of the preceding Largo in a warmer section that slowly tries to find a way ahead. It does find a forward flow, weaving some lovely free moving textures with a lovely counterpoint before leading into Adagio di molto II where an organ quietly plays a theme over which a repeated string theme is laid. Woodwind join reflecting the organ sonorities before the organ slowly and quietly takes the lead before falling back into the orchestral texture.

The strings bring a gently passionate slow theme for the Largo e mesto - Doloroso - Con grande dolore full of Sibelian regret and isolation. There is a chilly, somewhat withdrawn quality as the music moves falteringly forward in this most distinctive section, sensitively and exquisitely played here with Segerstam drawing out every subtle moment. The music rises towards the end with a bell sounding before descending quietly into the gloom.

The following Lento opens quietly with tubular bell strokes as the music slowly moves around in the mists. A tolling bell can be heard as strings try to lift the music.  The organ appears with the lower strings to finally raise the music up into the concluding Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest) where the chorus returns, soon descending into rapidly chanted vocal passages before orchestra, bell chimes, organ and choir lead slowly and inexorably to the coda.

This is a very fine work with playing of great sympathy and understanding from Leif Segerstam and his forces. There are some remarkably fine orchestral ideas in this work that every Sibelian will want to hear.

Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra give us two well-chosen smaller works by Sibelius to complete this disc. First is the Two Serious Melodies for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 77 where they are joined by violinist, Mikaela Palmu who brings some fine moments to these two pieces with her lovely rich, singing tone to which Segerstam and the orchestra add an idiomatic support to these two finely shaped performances. In No. 1. Cantique (Laetare anima mea) (1914) this soloist develops much passion and in No. 2. Devotion (Ab imo pectore) (1915) brings a sublimely atmospheric feel.  

Segerstam brings some real weight to In Memoriam, Op. 59 (final version) (1910) as he slowly allows the music to develop, revealing some fine moments, finding many moments of subtle quiet detail. There is a terrific overlay of strings in the inexorable plodding funereal theme. He allows the music to swirl up in some magnificent passages rising to a peak of grandiose drama before the hushed coda.

This is a strikingly fine release with some first rate and quite wonderful Sibelius in Jedermann. They receive an excellent recoding from Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland and there are informative booklet notes.

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