Symphonies Nos. 81, 162, and 181
(Ondine) The Finnish composer Leif Segerstam writes symphonies like other people eat potato chips: by the handful. By current count he’s up to No. 244, although that number will need to be updated any minute now. They are full-scale pieces for large orchestra, normally running about 25 minutes each. Nonetheless, each occupies only a few pages of score, thanks to a super-efficient mode of composition involving what he calls “free pulsation”: he gives the musicians general directives about the sounds they are to produce, but it’s up to them to improvise the details of pitches and rhythms. As a result, his pieces can resemble one another closely, especially when interpreted by the same orchestra. Here Segerstam (who is a distinguished conductor, especially of Scandinavian repertoire) leads the Bergen Philharmonic in three symphonies that are numerically related: No. 81 (suitably subtitled “After Eighty …”), No. 162 (“Doubling the Number for Bergen!”), and No. 181 (which involves numerical play partly derived from Symphony No. 81). The music characteristically involves weighty blocks of sound etched with vibrant surface detail or else tranquil pastures of lyricism — which is to say he can resemble his fellow Finns, Saariaho on the one hand and Rautavaara on the other. Each of these visionary works could serve to accompany a planetarium show. If you like them, there are plenty more where they came from.