Segerstam’s Bewildering Brahms

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 5

Sound Quality: 9

Even if someone thought pairing Brahms’ echt-romantic Symphony No. 2 with Leif Segerstam’s quasi-modernist Symphony No. 289 would make a fetching CD, it’s hard to believe they actually listened to the Brahms performance, which is dispiritingly slow and depressingly long. Yes, Giulini’s Los Angeles recording sports a similar first movement timing (around 22 minutes, with both conductors observing the exposition repeat), but there’s far more energy, variety, and passion in Giulini’s performance.

Segerstam oddly manages to be both colorful and staid as he draws generally alert playing from his orchestra. The Adagio is the worst–Segerstam’s dragging tempo drains all the harmonic surprise out of this poignant piece. The finale, well, that’s the worst, too. So leaden and ponderous, any newcomer hearing this would develop a lifelong disdain for Brahms’ 2nd Symphony. Most befuddling, Segerstam abruptly speeds up the tempo for the closing bars, as if he suddenly remembered he had a plane to catch.

Where his Brahms is overlong, Segerstam’s own Symphony No. 289 is a relatively brief 19 minutes. But even this will be interminable for Brahms devotees, who are not likely to appreciate Segerstam’s mashup of Varèse and Boulez, with hints of Penderecki. Subtitled “When a Cat Visited”, the piece features many of the standard post-modernist tropes: ghostly glissandos, shimmering colors, and “cat” violin solos (played by Nobu Takizawa), all well captured by the recording. In the end, while momentarily interesting, it’s not the least bit memorable. Unless you are an avid collector of Segerstam’s 300-plus symphonies, get pretty much anyone else’s Brahms 2nd.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Brahms: Walter (Sony); Jochum (EMI); Karajan III (DG)

  • Nobu Takizawa (violin); Leif Segerstam (piano)
  • Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam

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