SUNLEIF RASMUSSEN: Symphony No. 2 The Earth Anew
25 February 2017
The Arts Desk
Sunleif Rasmussen was born in the Faroe Islands. He studied in Oslo, and now spends his time shuttling between Copenhagen and the Faroes. His impeccable pan-Scandinavian credentials are further boosted by the work on this disc. The Earth Anew was commissioned as a companion piece to Sibelius’s vast choral symphony Kullervo, and is scored for similarly extravagant forces. Sibelius’s libretto came from the Finnish national epic Kalevala. Rasmussen sets a text in Old Norse, a heady creation myth involving trees, dragons, squirrels and a world sinking into the sea before being reborn. As a piece of musical tone-painting it’s frequently astonishing, the first movement’s “confusion of sounds” a brilliant depiction of pre-creation chaos, Rasmussen’s bass-heavy textures enlivened by shrewd use of a percussive orchestral piano. The arrival of soprano Cyndia Sieden and baritone Bo Skovhus near the movement’s close induces goose pimples, the pair portraying the first humans.
Henrik Friis’s notes refer to Rasmussen’s deployment of Faroese folk tunes, though for non-natives they’re hard to discern. What hits home is the work’s theatrical flair and boundless invention, ensuring that the darkness never dominates. Several sections are very funny, notably Sieden’s squirrelly pyrotechnics in the third movement, sparring with gruff male voices. The symphony’s unsentimental, gently optimistic close is marvellous. Highly recommended, abetted by full-throated singing from the Akademiska Sångföreningen and Muntra Musikanter choirs. Superb recording, too.