Notes and Editorial Reviews
CPO's excellent Kurt Atterberg symphony cycle reaches its conclusion with this recording of the Ninth. In the 12 years between his composition of Symphony No. 8 and the completion of the Ninth Atterberg's style underwent significant change. Where the previous symphonies were primarily upbeat, and in some cases even bucolic, the 1956 Ninth exhibits a decidedly darker countenance. Atterberg's use of vocal forces invites an obvious comparison to Beethoven's Ninth, but that's where the similarity ends. Far from being a paean to universal brotherhood, Atterberg's choice of texts reflects the lasting impact on his psyche made by World War II and the Korean War. The Poetic Edda, an Icelandic epic dating
from around 1270, relates the visions of a wise prophetess (hence the Symphony's title "Sinfonia Visionaria") who foretells the creation of the world, the warring among gods, giants, and humans, the world's destruction, and finally its recreation.
To musically dramatize this apocalyptic tale, Atterberg employs mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists along with chorus and large orchestra, and devises a quasi-oratorio form. Sibelius' Kullervo symphony comes to mind when hearing the work's Nordic melodies and harmonies, but Atterberg's Ninth is conceptually closer to Schoenberg's Gurrelieder (although the motivic development at times suggests Mahler's choral Eighth Symphony). After an atmospheric orchestral introduction, the baritone begins the tale, intoning an archaic folk melody that the mezzo then elaborates--and it is this variant that forms the motivic cell for the entire work.
The first third of the symphony is somewhat ruminative, as the soloists take their turns à la Gurrelieder, but afterward things heat up, with Atterberg unleashing some of his most violent and dramatic music since his powerful (but largely cheerful) Symphony No. 6. The choral writing is just magnificent, with the NDR Chorus and the Prague Chamber Choir creating thrills whenever they appear. Satu Vihavainen and Gabriel Suovanen bring fulsome voices and impassioned singing to their solo parts, while Ari Rasilainen leads the NDR Radio Philharmonic in a gripping performance of this enthralling work, which lasts a surprisingly brief 40 minutes.
Älven (The River) is a Swedish take on Smetana's Moldau: it illustrates the (in this case unnamed) river's interaction with and effect on human life--though unlike Smetana, Atterberg does not employ a recurring central theme. Composed soon after the Third Symphony, it shares some of that work's intensely vivid descriptions of physical landscapes as it takes us along on the river's journey to the sea. Rasilainen and his orchestra give yet another potent and persuasive performance, and CPO's clear, wide-ranging sound maintains the standard set by the rest of the series. [8/16/2003]
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 9, Op. 54 "Sinfonia visionaria" by Kurt Atterberg
Satu Vihavainen (Soprano),
Gabriel Suovanen (Baritone)
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra,
North German Radio Chorus,
Prague Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1955-1956; Sweden
Älven, Op. 33 by Kurt Atterberg
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1929; Sweden
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