Scaramouche is described in Naxos’s presentation as a “tragic pantomime” and also relates that writing the continually playing music for it gave Sibelius “much stress and frustration.” Nevertheless the composer noted in his diary a first-night success at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and that his accompaniment also won critical favour. Nearly a decade had passed between the score’s completion in 1913 and the opening performance in 1922.
Understandably we think of Sibelius’s greatest achievements as being his Symphonies and Tone Poems. But he had a nose for drama and for telling a tale, and his extensive contribution to Scaramouche is to be treasured. The music is delightfully light and also heartfelt, as well as full of characterisation and choreography – deft, individual and very creative.
Although a relatively small orchestra is employed, including a piano, Sibelius’s genius is such that much colour and evocation is evident and which sustains a long and rewarding listen. If at times Tchaikovsky is in the background, with particular reference to The Nutcracker, and occasionally Glazunov might be thought of as being the interloper, then really every note could only be by Sibelius – his invention and orchestration has the capacity to say and suggest so much through a compelling mix of charm, warmth and strangeness.
Scaramouche’s scenario is copiously detailed in the booklet note and also in relation to the music being played. Not forgetting the excellent viola solos (representing Scaramouche himself, a “sinister hunchbacked dwarf”) from Bendik Goldstein and those for cello from Roi Ruottinen – the flautist should also have been named – Leif Segerstam (a dedicated Sibelian) and the Turku Philharmonic are poised and lively advocates for this fascinating off-shoot of Sibelius’s capabilities, at once inimitable and economical yet imaginatively indicative of the story and the stage action. The recording is beautifully clear and airy.