Leif Segerstam conducts and performs Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 and Segerstam’s Symphony No. 289 with the Turku Philharmonic

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ALBUM TITLE: Brahms * Segerstam
WORKS: Brahms: Symphony No. 2; Segerstam: Symphony No. 289
PERFORMER: Turku Philharmonic/Leif Segerstam (conductor and pianist)


There may be a musical pigeonhole into which Leif Segerstam can be fitted, but if so, it’s one of the strangest objects in the known universe. Alongside his utterly idiosyncratic account of Brahms’s Second Symphony we have one of those weird, wild and (sometimes) wonderful sound-collages Segerstam calls symphonies. This is No. 289 – no joke: the current total is above 300 – entitled, When a Cat Visited. This visiting cat, personified by a solo violin, clearly comes not from a neighbouring house but a distant galaxy. The faintly hallucinogenic atmosphere is partly accounted for by the fact that this score (like most of Segerstam’s symphonies) requires no conductor. The players, or groups of players, take their cues from each other, which creates a kind of free associative effect like that of a dream. Not all of it makes sense, but there are moments of haunting beauty, textures and patterns that stick in the mind.

As for Segerstam’s Brahms Symphony No. 2, it too has a generous, expansive, warmly expressive feel. It isn’t very athletic, and there are moments where I’d have liked a bit more rhythmic definition. But against that are the moody romantic vistas in the slow movement, or the wonderful open-heartedness of the finale’s second theme. And throughout we have phrasing that really sings. I was going to say that it’s probably a one-off experience, but as I write that I’m already thinking of going back for more. We need people like Leif Segerstam: utterly unclassifiable, sometimes just bizarre, but always fresh and entirely genuine.


Stephen Johnson