Leif Segerstam

Alexander Scriabin: Symphony No. 2; Rêverie; Le Poème de l'exatse

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It's wonderful that Finnish composer Leif Segerstam turned out to be such a gifted conductor of other composers' music. It's even more wonderful that Segerstam turned out to be sympathetic to such a wide variety of music -- most of it from the fin de siècle. He's recorded Mahler, Nielsen, Sibelius, and, on this 1992 BIS disc, even Scriabin. Coupling the Russian composer's Second Symphony, his brief Reverie, and his in-all-but-name fourth symphony (aka, The Poem of Ecstasy), Segerstam and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic turn in performances of remarkable energy, enthusiasm, and understanding. True, Segerstam doesn't quite have the sense of reckless impetuosity that marks other Russian conductors' approaches to Scriabin's music, and the Swedish orchestra doesn't seek to match the ecstatic tone that Russian orchestras bring to the music. But it is also true that Segerstam grasps the unity and the cogency of the music better than most Russian conductors and the Swedish players' resolutely refuse to surrender to the music's tendency toward self-indulgent grandiosity, a claim Russian orchestras cannot always make with impunity. While many, perhaps most, listeners will prefer Evgeny Svetlanov's orgasmic readings with the USSR Symphony Orchestra as being more authentic and more idiomatic, those who prefer a bit more musicality and a bit less sensuality may wind up preferring Segerstam's, especially since BIS' digital sound from the '90s is so much clearer, warmer, and more detailed than Melodiya's raw, rough stereo sound from the '60s.

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