Atterberg's daring and stormy violin concerto
Russ | Richmond, VA | 07/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"CPO's survey of the music of Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) has been one of the most exciting things going on in the world of classical music in recent years. Despite what they teach in the history books, the Romantic period was alive and well deep into the twentieth century. Although, Atterberg thought of himself as a "national classicist," his music definitely belongs to the romantic tradition. Atterberg can probably be thought of as an uber-romanticist, with his broad, sweeping orchestral melodies filled with gorgeous lyricism and lots of drama. Think of Tchaikovsky - but more.
All of this is true of Atterberg's 37 minute Violin Concerto in E minor (Atterberg was quite at home in minor keys). This is a relatively early work (Opus 7), but nevertheless, is powerful and daring. Much of Atterberg's music is influenced by Swedish folk melodies. However this is not the case with the violin concerto. Despite this, the minor harmonies and dramatic orchestral writing definitely give the work a Nordic feel. The dark, declamatory opening eventually gives way to a pompous theme played by the strings, but the violin brings the movement back to the minor key. Eventually a lovely, nostalgic theme breaks through the fray, giving the violinist, Ulf Wallin (who plays fantastically in this warhorse of a concerto), a chance to showcase his expressive technique. After an extended cadenza, the nostalgic theme and the dark opening material battle it out, until only the opening theme breaks away bringing the first movement to a tempestuous close. Typical of Atterberg's other adagios, the second movement is both serene and expressive. The opening of the final movement is fierce, and a comparison to a storm at sea is irresistible with the swelling and subsiding growls in the low brass, dramatic timpani rolls and swirling flutes above it all. The music does eventually calm down, and moves to the key of E major where the opening theme of the final movement appears in a more peaceful, reflective form. Quite different from the opening, the concerto ends slowly and serenely.
The Varmlands Rhapsody is quite similar to Alfven's three Swedish Rhapsodies. The Rhapsody is filled with all the folk elements that were absent from the concerto. The work opens with a slow introduction, evocative of the Swedish landscape. Eventually a jaunty theme is heard off in the distance, played by solo violins. This theme eventually gains more and more momentum, but fades away revealing the slower music of the introduction once more. The Overture in A minor is another early work, but you would hardly know it from Atterberg's self-assured style. The declamatory theme played by the brass here definitely brings to mind similar such themes heard in the finales of the symphonies. This is an interesting piece, full of good, folk-influenced tunes, and colorful orchestration. The piece builds to a brilliant, yet stormy, climax halfway into the piece where the violins, then the trumpets, play a heroic theme over a frenzy of swirling woodwinds and an aggressive ascending trombone line. The music turns plaintive after this climax, but swells up once more in a conclusion that I would place somewhere between triumphant and bombastic.
This is another winner in the ongoing Atterberg series, although this music doesn't reach the heights of the symphonies and lasts a little too long in some places. I can fully recommend this release to those who have previously acquired the Atterberg symphonies or those looking for tuneful romantic violin concertos. If you are exploring, and are new to Atterberg, I would pick up his seventh and eighth symphonies first.
A Big, Luscious, Romantic Swedish Violin Concerto
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 04/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Some critics have lambasted Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) for being an arch-conservative composer. But the situation in Sweden during his lifetime allowed for that largely because the disruptions of World War I, which led other European composers to look for compositional approaches that reflected its ensuing disharmony, did not really affect Sweden all that much. Be that as it may, music by Atterberg is indeed quite romantic in thrust although he continued to hew to classical forms throughout his career, stating that he had never composed 'a formless mood piece.' In this sense he was a post-Brahmsian although his harmonic model was probably closer to the methods used by Richard Strauss.
The cpo label has been slowly adding to its valuable revelatory series of orchestral music by this Swedish master. All the symphonies have been recorded, as has the piano concerto and the tone poem, Älven (The River). Here we have his only violin concerto, coupled with two orchestral pieces, the Värmland Rhapsody and the early Overture in A Minor. Easiest on the ear, and unfailingly luscious in its orchestration and harmonies, is the Värmland Rhapsody, Op. 36. It was commissioned for the celebration of the 75th birthday of Swedish Nobel-prizewinning writer Selma Lagerlöf, who had written extensively of Värmland, a west-central province of Sweden. Although the Rhapsody does not follow a narrative line, its broad flowing, expansive melodies reflect in some way the landscape of the region. Atterberg uses a popular Värmland folksong as one of the main themes of the work. The Overture in A Minor, Op. 4, (from 1912 but revised in 1933) , was written at the same time Atterberg was graduating with his degree in electrical engineering. (He spent his entire professional life in the Swedish office of patents, retiring only when he was eighty-one!) It is less immediately engaging but repeated listening helps one hear and appreciate his expert manipulation of an altered sonata-allegro form.
The Violin Concerto in B Minor is in the usual three movements. It starts unusually with the unaccompanied violin intoning the movement's (and indeed the concerto's) elegiac main theme. The overall construction of the concerto is an arch form tied together by the alteration throughout of that main theme. It recurs in the melancholy and haunting middle movement. It also figures in the lively rondo finale in whose final peroration it reappears in its earliest form, bringing the work to a satisying close. Ulf Wallin, the Swedish violinist possibly best known for his chamber music performances and his championing of new music, is a persuasive soloist. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, under German conductor Roger Epple, are in fine form.
This is a worthy addition to the growing Atterberg discography for which we can thank cpo. One hopes we can look forward to recordings of the cello concerto and the double concerto for violin and cello.