The symphonies of Jean Sibelius, which get played more often than any of his other music, are weighty, structurally complex affairs, but he had another side, often light and sparkling, that came out in his theatrical music and in other miniatures. None of the music on this collection from the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Leif Segerstam qualifies as familiar. The marquee item, the music for Belshazzar's Feast, a play based on the biblical Book of Daniel, is here presented complete, not in the suite that has been occasionally recorded. The rest of the music is a real miscellany, and lo, there is music here that conductors and orchestras should get to know better. The Belshazzar's Feast music contains some real gems, such as the terse final Dance of Death (track 13 -- it is this work that is "macabre," contrary to what the graphics say). The first two pieces started life as two movements of a symphony the young Sibelius abandoned; listeners can see why he gave up on it, but also hear him differentiating his symphonic language as he goes. The Processional, Op. 113/6, is a real rarity: part of a set of Masonic choral pieces Sibelius wrote in 1927, it was arranged for orchestra in 1938, becoming one of the last pieces of any kind Sibelius wrote. The booklet calls it "enigmatic," but actually it's a broad, idealistic melody in the Finlandia vein, and it's gorgeous. Likewise a find is the wedding march Die Sprache der Vögel, JS 62, tailor made for anyone wanting strong but unfamiliar wedding music. Segerstam is an ideal Sibelius conductor, flexible and alert to the boundary between interior and formal, and Naxos scores with the engineering from the small Turku Concert Hall. A must-have release for Sibelius lovers, and an unexpected pleasure for anybody.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Belshazzar's Feast, JS 48|
|Masonic Ritual, Op. 113|