This is the first in a series from the Naxos label, planned to cover lesser-known orchestral music by Sibelius. From the evidence here, these albums will be a decidedly mixed bag, but potentially interesting. A good deal of the music will fall into a genre that these days is unfairly characterized as too unfamiliar: incidental music for plays. There is no reason it should not be listened to as avidly as its immediate successor, film soundtrack music, especially when there are beautiful little portraits like the "Cranes" movement from the incidental music for the Symbolist play Kuolema (1903). Of course the large-scale evolving architecture that makes Sibelius' symphonies so compelling is not possible in this medium, but many of the short movements, especially in the music for the weightier historical drama King Christian II (1898), seem related to the earlier symphonies. Then there is the first movement of the Kuolema music, here titled "Tempo di valse lente - poco risoluto," which, when reworked by the composer into the Valse triste, became one of his most famous short pieces. There are several songs that make one wonder what Sibelius might have accomplished in the operatic field, and the only real disappointment is the Overture in A minor of 1902, a slapdash work that did not need to come first just because it is an overture. The performances by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra under Leif Segerstam are enthusiastic and idiomatic. Recommended for Sibelius lovers, with the welcome prospect of more to come.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Kuolema - Complete Incidental Music, JS 113|
|Two Songs from Twelfth Night, Op. 60|
|Kung Kristian II (King Christian II) - Complete Incidental Music, Op. 27|