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Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, April 2012

this CD Segerstam is breathtakingly productive…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. 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.

Here is a composer who is forbidding only in the profoundly awesome volume in which music of such prodigious imagination floods out from him. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, July 2011

Leif Segerstam is better known as a conductor than as a composer. It might seem from the heading that he is very active on that front, but in reality many of these symphonies rely on active decision-making by performers, and not every detail is notated. These works are intended to investigate the inherent creativity of orchestral musicians, thus notice that the Bergen Philharmonic is performing here without a conductor, in a state of blissful liberation.

It is impossible to know precisely what the boundaries are for these pieces. We do not know what the players are given, or what instructions they are following. Sometimes gestures are explosive blobs of tossed harmonies. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell that there is improvisation involved at all (like the intense opening of 162). Sometimes a lyrical line appears mysteriously, in unison. It seems that most of this is meticulously planned out in the usual way, though details may be left to improvisation. The end result turns out to be your basic modern music exercise, only the fact that there is no conductor and much of it seems to be performed with freedom in the details makes this by definition an unusual compositional enterprise.

The symphonies, each roughly 25 minutes long, all have fanciful subtitles. 81 (2002) is called After Eighty, after the chocolates with that name. 162 (2006) has the title Doubling the Number for Bergen!, which performs that operation on Symphony 81. In that piece, the dramatic chaos is interrupted about 10 minutes in by the opening of Für Elise. A held bass note supports the starry ending. 181 (2007), subtitled Names Itself when Played, has a solo violin poking through now and then between sections of pandemonium and tortured expressionist lyricism.

I wish there were more details on the mechanics of how these pieces were put together. As music, these realizations (all from concerts) are “interesting” in the usual sense of that term. Segerstam, a brilliant musician who has given us superb recordings of the music of Pettersson and Rautavaara, among others, has opened up a provocative if not necessarily satisfying path for listeners and composers and all interested in highly unusual new orchestral music.

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