Atterberg: Orchestral Works, Vol 1 - Järvi
Chandos CHSA 5116
Classical - Orchestral
Kurt Atterberg: En värmlandsrapsodi; Symphony No. 6 "Dollar"; Symphony No. 4 "Sinfonia piccola"; Suite No. 3
Sara Troback Hesselink (violin), Per Hogberg (viola),
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Back in 2010, Neeme Järvi commenced his Scandinavian project with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, offering up idiomatic performances of orchestral works by two of Norway’s best-loved composers, Johan Halvorsen and Johan Svendsen. Similar in its approach, this new survey turns to Norway’s neighbouring country, with Järvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in orchestral works by the Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg.
Atterberg was one of Sweden’s leading composers in the twentieth century, not to mention a conductor, critic, and founder of the Society of Swedish Composers. Largely self-taught, he developed a compositional style which initially owed much to Brahms and Alfvén, although he was more inclined to paint vivid, loosely structured melodic pictures than to adhere to the traditional classical frameworks. Tuneful, accessible, and fairly folkloristic too, Atterberg’s music became more impressionistic by World War I, and it was around this time that he composed most of the works on this download.
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Review by Graham Williams - February 20, 2013
For the first volume of a new Chandos series devoted to the orchestral works of the Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974), Neeme Järvi moves appropriately to Gothenburg with its fine orchestra and a concert hall whose acoustic is ranked amongst the world's finest.
Though many of Atterberg's works are already available on CD, this release marks the first appearance of any of this composer's music on SACD. This is especially gratifying as the performances of all the four works on this disc are delightfully buoyant and the quality of the recorded sound could hardly be more vivid.
The two symphonies – the longest compositions on this disc – are arguably the most immediately engaging of the nine that Atterberg composed between 1910 and 1955.
Symphony No.4 subtitled 'Sinfonia piccola' was written in1918, and as the title suggests it is a concise piece that lasts about 20 minutes – its four movements are played without a break. The symphony is heavily influenced by Swedish folk music and its scoring displays a classical transparency. A fiery opening movement is followed by a tranquil and haunting slow movement that begins with a lovely clarinet solo over soft undulating strings and then becomes passionately rhapsodic. The very brief ( 1'23”) Scherzo leads to a vigorous and exciting rondo finale. The immediate appeal of this symphony makes its absence from concert hall programmes today something to regret.
Atterberg's 6th Symphony was composed between 1927 and 1928 and its nickname the 'Dollar Symphony' came about as the result of the circumstances surrounding its composition. For the centenary of Schubert's death (1828) the American record company Columbia organised an international competition inviting composers to complete Schubert's “ Unfinished Symphony”. This proposal caused such outrage that the competition task was altered to one of composing a symphonic work “in the spirit of Schubert”.The competition with its first prize of $10,000 – an enormous sum in 1928 – attracted some 500 entries from 26 countries. Ten regional juries made up of distinguished musicians each selected three winning entries and the first prize winner in each region went forward to the final round, judged by a jury that included Glazounov and Nielsen. Atterberg's symphony was awarded the first prize. Beecham made a recording of the work even before it had been performed publicly and Toscanini conducted a performance in 1943 that very much met with the composer's approval. The two outer movements of this symphony are colourful and lively – particularly the humorous finale, while the deeply felt slow movement, as in the earlier symphony, shows the influence of folk themes.
Two other works complete this disc: The 'Suite No. 3' is Atterberg's arrangement for violin, viola and string orchestra of three movements from his incidental music to Maeterlinck's play 'Soeur Béatrice'. The solo parts of this hauntingly expressive music are most sensitively performed by Sara Trobäck Hesselink (violin) and Per Högberg (viola) two of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra's principals. 'En varmlandsrapsodi' (A Varmland Rhapsody) is an atmospheric work that inhabits the same world as the slow movement of the sixth symphony and makes use of folk tunes in a richly orchestrated tapestry.
In all these performances Neeme Järvi's animated conducting style works to the advantage of the music. His spirited account of the fast music is most exhilarating, but while he maintains a urgent momentum he is always responsive to the many beauties and natural flow of the slow sections of these works. It goes without saying that the playing of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for their Principal Conductor Emeritus is totally idiomatic throughout.
The engineers (Lennart Dehn and Torbjörn Samuelsson) have achieved an open, clear and quite ravishing sound quality on this Chandos 5.0 channel, 24-bit / 48kHz recording that perfectly captures the airy acoustic of the venue.
This is a most successful release of unfamiliar Scandinavian music that can be wholeheartedly recommended.
Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
Review by Mark Novak - December 9, 2015
This is good music – really good music that is rarely recorded. Of Atterberg’s nine symphonies, the 6th has garnered the most attention in recordings due to the circumstances surrounding its composition – it was the first prize winner of a competition sponsored by the Columbia Recording Company in 1928. Initially, Columbia had asked for composers to present a finished version of Schubert’s unfinished symphony. This initial challenge was met with numerous protests and so Columbia modified the remit by requesting symphonies “in the spirit of Schubert”. Many composers around the world responded to the challenge and regional panels were arranged to judge the submissions. Atterberg, who had already begun composing his 6th symphony before the competition was even announced, submitted his score to the Nordic regional panel who awarded it first prize for that region and then sent it on to the final round of judging where it eventually won the overall first prize (besting Schmidt’s 3rd symphony and Marek’s Sinfonia Brevis) and a nice sum of $10,000 for the composer.
There is very little, if anything, Schubertian about Atterberg’s 6th symphony (or, for that matter, any of the three finalists). Its Scandinavian roots, however, are apparent and it can stand on its own as a viable and enjoyable ~30 minutes of music (well, 27 minutes in the hands of Neeme Jarvi). I have two other modern recordings in my collection – a 1992 recording on BIS from the Norrkoping Symphony conducted by Jun’ichi Hirokami (33:26 duration) and a 1999 recording from Radio-Philharmonie Hannover on CPO conducted by Ari Rasilainen (31:06). There is also a monaural recording from Toscanini from 1943 (29 minutes) that is available on YouTube for those interested.
Based on these timings, it is clear that Jarvi moves things along (he even outdoes Toscanini!). Jarvi shaves the most time from the second movement, marked Adagio, where he is 3 ½ minutes speedier than Hirokami, the slowest of this group at 13:18. Does Jarvi’s tempo ruin the music? Not really, but it does change the character of the piece. His is more andante than adagio and that strips the music of some of its icy, Nordic feel in my opinion. Hirokami, on the other hand, plays up the brooding nature of this movement to full effect and I wouldn’t want to be without his fine performance (the Rasilainen is very similar to Hirokami in this movement but his recording is not quite as vivid as the BIS RBCD). Jarvi is more “mainstream” in the other two movements. He establishes a nicely flowing moderato first movement with plenty of sunlight and charm. The vivace finale is exciting and vigorous. The Gothenberg orchestra is terrific as is the excellent Chandos recording, which trumps the RBCD’s in its wide-ranging dynamics and top to bottom coherence.
For his 4th Symphony, Atterberg was also in a competition – this time with fellow Swedish composer Natanael Berg. They challenged each other to write a twenty minute symphony which featured a bass tuba at some point in the piece. Though the booklet note writer, Stig Jacobsson, says that neither composer were able to restrain their symphony’s span to just 20 minutes, Jarvi’s performance clocks in at 19:59! The Berg work (also his Symphony No.4 titled “Pezzo sinfonico”) which I have on the Sterling label takes 22:45 – but Jarvi hasn’t gotten his hands on that work yet as far as I know! The only other performance of the Atterberg 4th I know is the Rasilainen on CPO which takes 21:03. This four movement work draws inspiration from Swedish folk melodies though Atterberg never quotes them directly. It’s a mostly sunny composition that is well orchestrated. Fully diatonic throughout, its catchy melodies and solid orchestration make it a fun listening experience.
The Op.36 Rhapsody and the Suite No.3 make for perfect fillers. Like the 4th symphony, the Rhapsody also draws from Swedish folk music. It is full of beauty and is played wonderfully here. The Suite No.3 was originally scored for violin, viola and harmonium and was intended as music for a play. Later in life, Atterberg rescored the work replacing the harmonium with a string orchestra. The middle movement provides contrast with this composer’s mainly sunny demeanor with a mournful lament. The soloists, Sara Troback Hesselink (violin) and Per Hogberg (viola), are excellent and the recording beautifully integrates their playing with the refulgent string sound of the Gothenberg Symphony.
The SACD stereo sound excellently captures the orchestra in their concert hall. It’s a big and dynamic sound with plenty of the concert hall signature so that the listener is transported to the venue. Chandos – please continue! Recommended.
Copyright © 2015 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net