Symphony No. 2; Simply Largo
Ulster Orchestra/Daniele Rustioni
Naxos 8.574263 52:52 mins
The Italian composer Elisabetta Brusa is that modern rarity, a convincing 21st-century symphonist with a powerful stylistic voice and some urgent substance to communicate. The classical structure she adopts in her Symphony No. 2 is handled with rigour, offering strong foundations upon which she builds a crunchy harmonic language with more than a few nods towards bitonality and polytonality. A former pupil of Peter Maxwell Davies and Hans Keller, among others, Brusa has a strong pedigree and an individual approach that pays ample dividends in these world-premiere recordings.
The symphony, Brusa says in her booklet note, took ten years (2000-10) to write due to the ‘vicissitudes’ of fate. Although it is an abstract work, it seems easy to imagine that the five harsh, hammered-out chords which open the first movement, and batter down the more lyrical music later, form a fate motif of sorts. The work follows a traditional four-movement format with slow movement placed second, and the orchestration is rewardingly colourful. Some of the instrumental writing is really challenging, the proliferation of high, loud brass in particular, and the Ulster Orchestra carries some of these elements off with conviction. Unfortunately the strings do not always match up with confidence or intensity of tone, while the balance of both orchestra and sound quality could perhaps be stronger. The short Simply Largo for string orchestra, however, gives its players a chance to shine brighter: here the richness of Brusa’s language and the expressive lament the music crystallises speak compellingly to the listener.