Two Terrific Swedish Romantic Symphonies
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974; pronounced 'Atterberry,' I'm told) was an unabashed Romantic who was still composing post-Straussian symphonies as late as these two from the 1940s. Modernism came late to Sweden and there was a clutch of similarly-inclined composers there in the first half of the 20th century: Stenhammar, Alfvén, Peterson-Berger, Aulin, and others. Atterberg seems to have gotten lost in the crowd, although now there are recordings of these symphonies here on cpo and on Sterling, the latter with the Malmö Symphony under Michail Jurowski. Comparison of the two CDs leaves little doubt that this cpo release, with the superior Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra (Stuttgart) under Ari Rasilainen, is much the better.Both of these symphonies make a good deal of use of Swedish folk songs and dances, the Eighth more obviously so. In the first movement of No. 7 there is more than a hint of Swedish folk fiddling, often with orchestration that makes it sound nostalgic as if recalled in a daydream. In both symphonies there are lots of violins swirling in triple time, most often a fast 6/8 and sometimes sounding for all the world like a slightly demented tarantella (third movement of the 7th). There are also lots of horn chords, thickening the sound picture but also lending a kind of depth. And the horns have much opportunity to sing slow heroic tunes. Speaking of tunes, I don't think Atterberg ever wrote a tune that wasn't memorable. I'm not an expert on Swedish folk melodies and don't know how many of the melodies here are from vernacular sources, but I'm convinced from his other symphonies that are not so folk-oriented, that his powers of melodic invention were one of his strengths. You'll find yourself hearing his tunes in your head days later. Indeed, that's one of the reasons I decided to write this review some two years after its release (and months after I'd last listened to the CD); I found myself humming one of the tunes and although it took me a while to remember where it came from, I found it in the Adagio of the 8th Symphony, a lovely pastorale with a haunting English horn tune.Atterberg never wrote anything that could be considered more modern than, say, Sibelius (and he didn't even go so far as the Finn did in his Fourth Symphony). Some may scoff at his conservatism, but if you like generously melodic Romantic symphonies with lively rhythms presented in Straussian orchestration, Atterberg might be your man. This disc features suave direction and playing in clear and life-like sound. Scott Morrison"
The pleasantly unexpected?
David A. Hollingsworth | Washington, DC USA | 03/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The more I listen to the music of Kurt Atterberg, the greater the admiration I possess towards this surprisingly underrated composer. Atterberg was not a Stenhammar or a Nielsen or even a Sibelius in terms of composing music with sustained originality, inspiration, and clarity in the music making. Hence, he tends to overscore his music to the point of sometimes being banal. But there's a great sense of thematic invention and imagination that are euphoniously idiomatic and personal; an admirable sense of form and proportion. And even if some of his stronger works are not masterpieces, they pose serious challenges to the masterworks of the 20th century especially due to Atterberg's talents for evocative orchestration. His ideas stands up pretty well on their own.The Seventh Symphony (1941-1942) have a good deal going for it. The very Straussian, funeral-like beginning gives way to a highly energized secondary subject. The music is appealing, but fails to travel far enough. But the second movement is quite a masterpiece. The mood evokes wonder as if "a person walking through the landscape, with the sun rising up, streams gently flowing down the smooth plains, and with sounds created by the gentliest of creatures." The movement suggests Grieg and even Glazunov (that Slavic atmosphere that props up rather briefly). But there's something impressionistic about the movement that recalls Debussy and perhaps Roussel. The finale is somewhat a rondo, permeated with Swedish folk music. It's vivid and dance-like, sometimes even heroically. But it runs a risk of being banal and the closing falls short of being ultimately memorable. To my mind, the Eighth Symphony (1944-1945) is altogether the more impressive (which explains why Sibelius expressed high admirations of the piece during its 1945 Helsinki premiere). The largo beginning is again Straussian. But the following allegro section is highly enticing, first announced by the busy string writing with the flute accompaniment (did he by any chance heard Lemba's Symphony in C). The atmosphere is Nordic, but not too far from the sound world of Vaughn-Williams. The second movement is that of real quality. It's as magical as the slow movement of the Seventh, but a bit more nocturnal (and perhaps a bit exotic). The molto vivo third movement is joyous, but somewhat in a heroic sense. But try 0:50-ff and you'll notice something remotely Baxian in the Gaelic atmosphere near the rough and tumbled sea. The finale is quite dramatic and a bit carefree. But listen to the final two minutes & you'll sense something Brucknerian in its angered contemplation and drama (as if the composer had much more to say).The performances under Ari Rasilainen are committed throughout, with the recording quality that are both clean and faithful. I, therefore, eagerly await the next installments of the already impressive CPO series of Atterberg's music, with the conductor who's definitely on a rise to prominence."
Everything a symphony should be!
Russ | Richmond, VA | 10/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The symphonies of Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) are among the greatest discoveries I have made over the past several years. As other reviewers have mentioned, Atterberg music is unabashedly Romantic; full of heroic melodies, powerful/vibrant orchestration and dramatic orchestral gestures, with adherence to symphonic form. Atterberg's music incorporates, and is influenced by, traditional Swedish melodies. Atterberg has a penchant towards minor harmonies and heavy, dense orchestration, giving much of his output a dark and stormy feel (especially in the outer movements). If you like the symphonies of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, you'll like Atterberg. Despite the fierce nature of the symphonies' outer movements, the inner slow movements contain surprisingly beautiful, evocatively orchestrated, melodies, which often venture into the modal realm, that admirers of Vaughan Williams will surely love.
If you are new to Atterberg, this release featuring the seventh and eighth symphonies is an excellent introduction to this underrated composer. The first movement of the seventh symphony (the "Drammatico" movement, with emphasis on the "drammatic") begins with a series of ominous fanfares before a characteristic, accented chord progression is proclaimed. The movement is filled with sweeping string melodies, powerful horn lines and vivid orchestration. The second movement is beautiful and haunting, with lovely writing for the upper strings and flutes, colored by harp and glockenspiel figurations. This music definitely brings to mind a pastoral setting. The spirited finale of the seventh, based on a traditional fiddling melody, while great, doesn't quite match the high level of the first two movements.
It can be said, the seventh symphony is outstanding, but the eighth symphony is even better! The eighth is permeated with folk elements, however Atterberg masterfully keeps things varied, yet structured, as to avoid the appearance that his work an arrangement or a folk music rhapsody. The dramatic climax of the first movement, with the trumpet boldly asserting the movement's theme, is highly reminiscent of the climax of the first movement of Dvorak's eighth symphony. The second movement (Adagio) is lovely and beguiling. Again, this is picturesque music, bringing to mind a beautiful landscape. Atterberg truly was a master of the adagio. The third movement is a bristling scherzo, featuring an exciting brass melody underpinned by orchestral accents which alter between divisions of two and three, keeping things interesting. Opening with a boldly dark melody in the horns, with heavy orchestral accents, the finale is reminiscent of the finales of Atterberg's earlier symphonies. While not in the same class as the finale of Dvorak's ninth, the opening of Atterberg's finale definitely brings that symphony to mind. This movement is thrilling in every way and reaches an effective, yet stormy, conclusion with the reappearance of the opening material.
This is one of those projects that can not be recommended highly enough. If you are a fan of the national romanticist school, it doesn't get much better than this. Even if the nationalist element of classical music doesn't appeal to you, I think you will enjoy Atterberg's exciting and beautiful symphonies. You probably can not consider Atterberg a musical pioneer, but his powerfully orchestrated, highly melodic music is worth fully exploring nonetheless. If you like this release (and you will), Atterberg's other seven symphonies (he wrote nine) and various concertos and orchestral works, released by CPO, are also highly and enthusiastically recommended.