Leif Segerstam conducts Symphony No. 288 (Letting the FLOW go on…) and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Segerstam
LABELS: Alba
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms * Segerstam
WORKS: Symphony No. 1, Symphony No. 288 (Letting the FLOW go on…)
PERFORMER: Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/ Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: ABCD 390 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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There is nobody remotely like Leif Segerstam – maddening yet wonderful, absurd one moment, suddenly sublime the next. In the CD booklet Segerstam tells us, in his inimitable English, that the opening of Brahms’s First Symphony is like an ancient Finnish hero ‘still banging on the walls of his birthgiving womb, like supersampos starting to create their territorial imperatives using nature’s power for prompting the tonechoosers with the right pin-codes for the nowpointchains…’ Got that? No, neither have I. But when he talks about the ‘wonderings and wanderings of uncle Johannes’ opened soul and heart generouslissimo sempre’ a light goes on for me. 

Segerstam’s Brahms First isn’t striving to be ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’ – there isn’t a great deal of Sturm und Drang here – but it is remarkably open-hearted, with a sense of long, supple architectural line, loose enough to allow Romantic ‘wonderings and wanderings’ but taut enough to keep it all flowing forward. It may not ultimately be a library recommendation, but it’s a performance that I’m glad I’ve heard. Some passages – especially the slow movement coda – will never be the same again: why have I never noticed before how beautiful the combination of solo violin and horn is? 

After this comes the wild collage of Segerstam’s own Symphony No. 288. (Yes, there are 287 others!) Like most of its precursors, it requires no conductor, so there’s an element of chance in its teeming textures. But the energy is undeniable, and there’s something weirdly touching about the later hushed dialogues between strings and swanee whistles. ‘Don’t be afraid to increase the dose of blobic porridge of music’, Segerstam urges. What can I possibly add to that?

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Stephen Johnson