BRUSA Florestan; Messidor; La Triade; Nittemero Symphony; Fanfare • Fabio Mastrangelo,

cond; NSO of Ukraine • NAXOS 8.555266 (75:37)

Elisabetta Brusa is Milanese, born there in 1954, studying at home with Bruno Bettinelli and Azio Corghi. Later courses took her to Peter Maxwell Davies at Dartington, in south-west England, and to Gunther Schuller and Hans Werner Henze at Tanglewood. I see from the biography in the booklet with this release that she also studied with my old friend Hans Keller in London. For the best part of two decades now she’s been on the staff of her alma mater, the Conservatorio of Milan, where she teaches “traditional orchestration”–whatever that is. (More information at www.elisabettabrusa.it.)What of the music? I have to say it’s not what I would have expected of a Keller student, whose numbers include such luminaries of modernism as Jonathan Harvey, nor, indeed, of a Schuller or Henze acolyte. Instead, Brusa enjoys a full-blooded late Romantic, unashamedly tonal idiom, with lashings of Hollywood – though the tradition may rather be that of Respighi, Pizzetti, and Nino Rota, of course. She obviously loves the sound of an orchestra at full tilt, rather too much, indeed: InFlorestan, a symphonic poem from 1997 full of vigorous striving and tumultuous incident, the urgency never lets up – but it’s not goal-directed; it’s just sixteen minutes of muscular activity.Messidor (1998) is, she says, “a free and graceful fantasy inspired by the various masterpieces, both literary and musical, under the title A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” You’re ill advised to pass value-judgment on your own music in this way, let alone line yourself up against Mendelssohn, Britten, et al., and unsurprisingly, Brusa stumbles at the fence; the influence of Respighi’sFountains is all too plain to hear too. It dances away self-contentedly for twelve minutes, no more goal-oriented than Florestan was. La Triade (1994) is another symphonic poem, overscored like the other two, with an elaborate program the detail of which out-Strausses Strauss. A genuinely impressive climax (representing a violent storm) is vitiated by the banality of the gestures that follow. And though the muddy textures occasionally clear, the effect is never sufficient to clear the air: Brusa never piles it on thick where piling it on really thick is possible.

The Nittemero Symphony (the name from a Greek expression, meaning “night and day”) of 1985–88 is in three movements; it’s a couple of minutes short of half-an-hour in length. Brusa’s notes say that the piece reflects “the course and variations of feelings and moods during the entire 24-hour cycle of a day according to the astronomical definition of ancient Greek times”–but by now the general insistence of her manner, her cloggy scoring, the lack of distinction of her melodic material are beginning to pall. One can see some of the music doing service in the background of a spaghetti western or B-feature sci-fi movie, but there’s not enough musical meat here to justify the title “symphony” – nor, indeed, the listener’s close attention. The brief Fanfare (1996) which closes the CD (why is it not at the beginning, one wonders) offers a last slab of exaggerated, heroic gestures.

The National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine, under Fabio Mastrangelo, plays gamely enough (and it’s in good sound), but the players can’t rescue the music. One of the principal attractions of Naxos’ budget price is that you can take a risk with music you don’t know and at worst you’ve lost only $5. In this instance, you are better advised spending them on something else.

Martin Anderson