The Naxos label has embarked on a series covering lesser-known works of Sibelius, performed by the little-known (outside Finland) but venerable Turku Philharmonic Orchestra under Sibelius veteran Leif Segerstam. They're well worth the time of Sibelius lovers, with clean, idiomatic performances that cover a side of the composer substantially lighter than that shown by his weighty symphonies. Many are associated with the theater, falling into genres like incidental music that really ought not to be forgotten inasmuch as they were the direct ancestors of today's soundtrack music. The music here is known to at least some listeners: Sibelius' incidental music for Maeterlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande is performed often in a suite made by the composer, but recordings of the whole set of pieces are rare. The work makes an interesting counterpoint to Debussy's and Schoenberg's better-known sets of pieces, and if the listener can shake free of a linear view of music history, it stands up well to those. Sample the very sparse and powerful Mélisande's song (track 6), given a rich performance by soprano Pia Pajala; it's enough to make one wish Sibelius had been induced to apply his structural thinking to opera. The deep and unified final Andante from Act V could and should be performed more often as an independent work. After the Pélleas music is another piece of incidental music for an abortive project, a trio of waltzes (one vocal), and a little work from the end of Sibelius' career. There might be slightly cleaner versions of the Pélleas et Mélisande music out there, but probably not in a recording that gives the entire work.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Pelléas et Mélisande - Complete incidental music, JS 147|
Act III. No. 6. Tranquillo (Mélisande's Song, Scene 2) 'De trenne blinda systrar' [The Three Blind Sisters]