BRUSA: Symphony No. 2. Simply Largo / Ulster Orchestra; Daniele Rustioni, cond / Nacos 8.574263
Although this is Vol. 4 of Elisabetta Brusa’s orchestral works, it is my first exposure to her music. Brusa, though Italian-born, also studied composition in England with Peter Maxwell Davies, but don’t expect her to sound much like her teacher. Although she uses certain modern chords and chord positions, Brusa’s music is much more lyrical than that of her teacher, harking back to such moderate Italian modernists as Respighi and Pizzetti (both of whom had their music played and recorded by Arturo Toscanini).
Nonetheless, there is good structure in Brusa’s second symphony, which took ten years to complete and a few months to orchestrate. She is obviously a woman who takes her time composing, ergo her smallish output. Interestingly, if you take away the occasional harmonic clashes, you will find that her music is very traditionally structured, not at all that far away from Beethoven or Brahms. The sometimes stringent harmonies make you think of Nielsen, but even he was more innovative in his last three symphonies. Of course, innovation in itself doesn’t mean very much, and as I say, Brusa knows what she is about. Whether or not a work like this will find its way into the standard repertoire, however, remains to be seen. Those who will admire her Brahmsian structure may not like the modern harmonies, and those who like modern harmonies may not like the traditional structure. This, I think, makes her something of an outlier in both worlds, and that isn’t always commercially attractive. As Brusa herself puts it in the liner notes:
When I compose, I rely on my fantasy and the improvisation of musical ideas. I compose solely at the piano, like old fashioned composers used to do, and not at the desk or directly at the computer. I have to feel the music I compose, though I don’t actually have to hear the orchestra. I used to copy out my works and orchestrate them directly at the computer, but now I just do not have the wish nor the strength to do so anymore. I compose the main ideas with basic orchestration on around four or five staves with pencil and paper and once these have been transferred onto the computer by a copyist and printed out, I orchestrate the rest with a pencil directly on the sheets.
The second movement, “Andante solenne,” is quite interesting, however, with its use of a vibraphone and glockenspiel playing very high up in their range, sometimes along with the violins, as well as a stronger rhythm than one normally encounters in such a movement.
By contrast, however, the Scherzo is much too long (almost nine minutes), runs in circles and says very little. Here, I think Brusa made an error; half the length would have said twice as much. I did, however, like the “Allegro risoluto” finale very much with its rhythmically strong figures which alternate with a lilting 6/8 rhythm. There are some quite imaginative touches, such as the string and xylophone explosion around the 3:37 mark.
Simply Largo, written in 2007, is also symphonically structured, and in fact surprisingly vigorous for a largo. Here, Brusa writes primarily for the strings, creating a large and often vital structure out of a few thematic cells.
It’s certainly an interesting album, well worth checking out.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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