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Rasmussen: Symphony No 2 (John Storgårds)

Cd/Dvd Reviews - Orchestral


Cyndia Sieden, Bo Skovhus, Helsinki Philharmonic, John Storgards
Dacapo 8226175

by Ben Wilkie on September 8, 2017 (September 8, 2017) filed under Orchestral | Comment Now
★★★★☆ Rasmussen composes a love letter to the tree of life.

For the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’ birth, John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic commissioned Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen to pen a new symphonic work to follow up his Oceanic Waves from 1997. This long-awaited Second Symphony premiered in 2015 alongside Sibelius’ Kullervo, and builds upon the earlier work in familiar ways. Notably, Symphony No 2, The Earth Anew, draws on Nordic mythologies and languages – Rasmussen retells the story of Yggdrasil, or the Tree of Life, written down in the Old Norse language a millennium ago.

Rasmussen writes that since childhood he had been “fascinated by the natural sounds of the [Faroe] Islands, where the big waves meet the high cliffs and produce a high smashing sound, and waves that are pushed into the deep caves and produce sub bass-like sounds.” Indeed, the symphony ranges from its agitato, angular opening, to a meandering, eclectic third movement, and closes in apocalyptic fashion as the sun turns black and the Earth sinks into the sea. It is a thrilling piece of music.

An agile Helsinki Philharmonic under Storgårds makes easy work of Rasmussen’s imaginative, acrobatic, and sometimes outrageously frantic scoring. They perform convincingly alongside weighty male choirs and vocal soloists, Cyndia Sieden and Bo Skovhus, on a sharp, high-quality recording. The two-decade wait has been worth it, but let’s hope for more from Rasmussen sooner rather than later.