Leif SEGERSTAM (b.1944)
Symphony No. 81 After Eighty… (2002) [25:26]
Symphony No. 162 Doubling the Number for Bergen! (2006) [23:08]
Symphony No. 181 Names itself when played... = (raising the number with 100 for Bergen) (2007) [22:35]
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/without conductor
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 9 October 2003 (81); 28 February 2008 (181); 13 November 2008 (162)
ONDINE ODE 1172-2 [71:29]
Both Bis and Ondine have stood shoulder to shoulder the same Leif Segerstam whose that Brahmsian beard and twinkling smile stares out at us from the cover of the disc. He is better known as a conductor - especially for Bis - but in this case steps forward again as a composer.
With nearly 250 symphonies to his name he has written at the rate of as many as thirty per year. His approach to composition is what? Not for him what he terms as the ‘Prussian ploughing’ of a fixed score. Instead he accords freedom to the players. Improvisation is the order of the day though within the bounds of a couple of pages of score. Add to this his adventurous letting-go another element. In 1993 he began to produce symphonies where he prescribed that there should be no conductor.
As you can gather from the score card for this CD Segerstam is breathtakingly productive and his symphonic progeny run into hundreds, These are symphonies of between 22 and 26 minutes duration.
I would characterise him as a dreamy Webernian melodist. Webern because of his use of small motes and units of music. Dreamy because his music adopts a sort of misty rhapsodising style. It’s the feeling one encounters in the presence of a work such as Ned Rorem's Lions for orchestra – a work with which I was recently united through the kindness of one of the readers of MWI. Melodist because the cells, specks and atoms that make up Segerstam’s building blocks are tonal. There is a warmth about the music and about its instinctive progress. The piano plays a forward role in No. 81. It is a work of surging optimism and welling upheaval. This is played like a slowly turning miasmic cloud system moving perilously close to the rim of despair and chaos. No. 162 is a romantic swirling storm finally resolving into a glimmering galactic body. It’s a work full of incident and interest. No. 181 reflects a roaring anger at one moment and a sleep-walking stroll the next. It is as if a drifting gothic somnambulist wanders across a surreal landscape buffeted by thunder and tempest. The work ends in a resolution carried by the twinkling piano: the type of starry palimpsest most vividly conjured by Estonian composer Urmis Sisask. I think Dr Brian Cox might approve. In No. 181 the prominent piano acts as inciter and rabble-rouser as well as foundation and anchor. Once again there is that sensation of being inside a heavenly phenomenon. One is swept along in towering anger and then cradled in misty roseate contentment. This parallels the psychedelia of Silvestrov's iconic Fifth Symphony and the more forbidding language of Jacques Charpentier’s Symphony No. 3 Shiva Nataraja.
His other Ondine discs are ODE 928-2 (Symphonies 21 and 23) and ODE 877-2 (Symphony No. 18 etc). There are others on Bis and a few other labels.
Here is a composer who is forbidding only in the profoundly awesome volume in which music of such prodigious imagination floods out from him.
Forbidding only in the profoundly awesome volume of such prodigiously imaginative music.