About this Recording
8.573437 - BRUSA, E.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 - Symphony No. 1 / Merlin (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Rustioni)

Elisabetta Brusa (b. 1954)
Symphony No. 1 • Merlin – Symphonic Poem


Elisabetta Brusa has always been strongly interested in and influenced by all the arts, in particular by the constraints of differing forms and genres imposed upon composers wishing to express original ideas in their music. After writing a handful of brief works during her early years, she turned to Classical sonata form for her First Symphony (1988–1990). This was her first work for large orchestra, following her graduation from the Milan Conservatory in 1980 with a Diploma in Composition.

Symphony No. 1 shares many similarities of language and expression with her Nittemero Symphony (1986–1988) [Naxos 8.555266], as well as the fundamental framework of sonata form. On first hearing, Symphony No. 1 leaves an overwhelming impression of sheer volume of sound, and of immense orchestration alternating monumental instrumental blocks with contrasting moments of pure lyricism. The opening bars of the first movement, with their dotted rhythms and ‘chiaroscuro’ (light and dark contrasts), recall the opening bars of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. The orchestration of the work, with its ample percussion, harp and keyboards, has the unusual effect of fluctuating between intensifying the tumultuous soundscape and soothing the emotional tension. The work’s harmonic language is based around the note C sharp (which acts as the pivotal point for chordal mutations) and there are numerous thematic and rhythmic leitmotifs woven throughout the course of all four movements. The initial Allegro ma non troppo is characterised by a certain aggression, while the lyrical Adagio, of almost Brucknerian length, is a showcase for the composer’s ecstatic and ethereal moods. Occasionally there are references to Holst, Vaughan Williams and Walton, all of them composers dear to Brusa and with whom she shares compositional colouring. The third movement, a 3/4 Allegro in the form of a typical Scherzo, whirls the listener around as if in the throes of a gothic “Valse” of death which alternates two themes, one in smooth and undulating compound time, the other in concisely rhythmic duple time. The Allegro moderato finale resumes Brusa’s typical orchestration of alternate and overlapping instrumental blocks with the original dotted rhythm re-presented and interwoven with lyrical motifs from the Adagio. The shattering conclusion to the symphony is reached with a sudden and almighty C sharp. Symphony No. 1 is dedicated to the composer’s teacher and mentor Hans Keller.

Mythology, literature, art and travel have always played a strong role in Elisabetta Brusa’s life. Her symphonic poem Merlin, written in 2004, tells the story (or rather emotionally describes) of Merlin, one of history’s best-loved legendary figures and and one for whom she has long had a fascination. In contrast to her Symphony No. 1, Merlin is a work free from the constraints of a traditional musical form, (as are the works recorded on her two previous Naxos albums) rather being a musically programmatic reflection of the character. As creator of the Round Table, Merlin’s magic enabled Uther Pendragon and Ygraine to conceive King Arthur, who was then raised by Merlin until his accession to the throne of Camelot. In Brusa’s symphonic poem an incessant rhythm, passed around the various instrumental sections and percussion (note the unusual yet pertinent presence of the anvil), provides the backdrop to a large-intervalled melody. This melody makes use of ethereal harmonies and magical instrumental effects which enchant the imagination of the listener, creating a solemn and spellbinding atmosphere. Merlin’s disappearance into a puff of smoke is brilliantly and wittily described in the work’s finale.

Gilberto Serembe

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