Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 8
Neeme Järvi, cond; Gothenburg SO; Natl O of Sweden
CHANDOS 5133 (SACD: 61:28)
It was less than a year ago, in
37:1, that I reviewed Volume 1 in a promised new Chandos survey of the orchestral works of Kurt Atterberg, so I won’t take up unnecessary time and space recapping the ups and downs the composer’s music and reputation have experienced throughout much of the 20th century; you can read that story in the previous review. The
earlier volume contained Atterberg’s Fourth and Sixth symphonies, plus a Rhapsody and a Suite, all done to a turn by Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Here Järvi again takes charge of the same ensemble, which, in parentheses, is now identified by its new official name, the National Orchestra of Sweden, to give us Atterberg’s Second and Eighth symphonies.
Atterberg (1887–1974) may be generally classified among the late Swedish Romantic nationalists, along with Wilhelm Stenhammar, Hugo Alfvén, Otto Olsson, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, and Ture Rangström. Like them, Atterberg brought with him into the 20th century an extended, post-Wagnerian harmonic vocabulary, a love of Nordic legend and folklore, and an ear for big, colorful orchestral scores. All of this was wedded, however, to a keen sense of Classical forms and 19th-century procedures of thematic exposition and development.
When it comes to Atterberg’s symphonies, Järvi has a respectable competitor in Ari Rasilainen on CPO. Rasilainen’s early 2000s recordings of all nine Atterberg symphonies with various German orchestras are generally quite good, even if I quibbled over a tempo or two in my previous review. But so far, Järvi seems to enjoy two advantages over Rasilainen: The consistency in playing and sound from a single orchestra, and the breadth and depth of the sonic image afforded by the recording’s multi-channel, surround-sound format.
Atterberg’s Second is a beauty. This is music that’s hard to resist—unstinting in melodic generosity and exuding a feeling of the goodness of the human spirit. The score underwent much revision and transformation between 1911 and 1913, when it was finally premiered in its current form. It’s hard to know if Atterberg may have heard Strauss’s
, or if it’s just sheer coincidence that at 2:30 into the Symphony’s first movement, there’s a passage that is strongly suggestive of the German composer’s tone poem. In any case, it’s surprising that this Symphony hasn’t received wider attention than it has, for it’s a wonderful specimen of the late-blooming Romanticism one hears in works that came from the pens of Scandinavian composers during the first two decades of the 20th century.
The Eighth Symphony is ostensibly based on Swedish folk melodies, but the score dates from 1944, a time when Europe was ravaged be war. Officially, Sweden remained a neutral nation throughout the duration of hostilities, but its pragmatic government aided the Germans in allowing the Wehrmacht use of Sweden’s railroads and in permitting passage of a German infantry division through Swedish territory on its way to invading Russia.
Even in a neutral country, I’m sure one couldn’t escape the daily news from the front of battles being waged and carnage being wrought; and while Atterberg’s Eighth is not quite a “war” symphony in the same way that Shostakovich’s Seventh is, there’s a pervasive feeling of darkness and gloom that hangs over this E-Minor Symphony, and a good deal of the type of ostinato-driven “advancing tanks” music one hears in Shostakovich’s works. If Atterberg doesn’t aim for or achieve the same degree of crushing brutality that Shostakovich does, he still manages to cast an effectively grim pall over the proceedings. While Richard Strauss may have been a minor influence on Atterberg’s youthful Second Symphony, the influence now on his Eighth points to Sibelius, specifically the Finnish composer’s earlier tone poems, such as
Nightride and Sunrise.
As noted in my previous review, Atterberg has made a number of appearances, disappearances, and reappearances over the years. With this unfolding cycle of his orchestral works by Neeme Järvi and the National Orchestra of Sweden in these excellent performances and brilliant recordings by Chandos, I have a feeling that this time Atterberg is here to stay. These are marvelous works surely of comparable quality to the symphonies of other Scandinavian composers of the time. Very strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
There’s a certain honesty to Kurt Atterberg’s music that’s really very fetching. His harmony is resolutely diatonic and romantic: when it’s major it’s happy, when it’s minor it’s sad, and this emotional directness remains consistent throughout his career. There is very little stylistic difference between the Second Symphony of 1911 and the Eighth of 1944. The latter is based on “Swedish National Melodies”, but the pastoral former work might have been as well for all the difference it makes. Both fall gratefully on the ear, but have plenty of contrast in mood, color, and texture to keep things interesting throughout their modest, half-hour length.
As in the first release in this series, Järvi leads vivid, energetic performances greatly assisted by some first-class playing from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. After all, if they don’t represent Atterberg well, then who will? The Eighth Symphony, in particular, was written for a small orchestra with a limited brass section (including two horns and a single trombone), and yet the textures remain remarkably rich and full. The string playing in the scherzo features notable delicacy and lightness without ever sounding like retrogressive, faux-Mendelssohn, as so many late-romantic German-style symphonies can. Chandos’ SACD sonics are also excellent. Keep up the good work, fellas.
– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in F major, Op. 6 by Kurt Atterberg
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1911-1913; Sweden
Venue: Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden
Length: 10 Minutes 10 Secs.
Symphony no 8, Op. 48 by Kurt Atterberg
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1944-1945; Sweden
Venue: Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden
Length: 9 Minutes 4 Secs.
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