SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

ATTERBERG: “Orchestral Works, Volume 1” = ‘Dollar Symphony’; En värmlandsrapsodi; Suite No. 3; Symphony No. 4 – Gothenburg Sym. Orch. /Neeme Järvi – Chandos

Strong way to get to know this Swedish composer.

Published on June 6, 2013

KURT ATTERBERG: “Orchestral Works, Volume 1” = Symphony No.6, ‘Dollar Symphony’; En värmlandsrapsodi; Suite No. 3; Symphony No. 4 – Gothenburg Sym. Orch. /Neeme Järvi – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5116 (Distr. by Naxos), 70: 14 ****:

Kurt Atterberg was a fascinating man with training and dual careers in both music as well as electrical engineering. Atterberg was born in Gothenburg.  In 1902, he began his musical training as a cellist and played in the Stockholm Concert Society, now known as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. While already a student of electrical engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology, Atterberg also enrolled at the Royal College of Music, Stockholm. There he studied composition and orchestration under composer Andreas Hallén.

Atterberg was fairly well known and quite respected during his lifetime but, unlike his more famous countryman Jan Sibelius, his music never became too well known outside of northern Europe – all the more reason to be grateful for this first volume in a projected series of his works with the esteemed Neeme Järmi and the Gothenburg Symphony.

Atterberg had an open, Romantic style that one finds immediately appealing. The Symphony No.6, which opens this disc, is a very fine three movement work (a typical rondo/scherzo third movement is what is missing from the characteristic sonata-allegro form) The second movement, Adagio tranquillo, is positively lovely with some wonderful exposed violin solos. The closing Vivace and Presto brings this very appealing work to an exciting close. The work is subtitled “The Dollar Symphony” for the very amusing reason that the work won Atterberg $10,000 in a Columbia Recordings composition contest!

Atterberg’s  Symphony No. 4; “Sinfonia Piccola” (the ‘Little Symphony’) is an understandably brief but bracing work in four-movement form. The opening movement sets the tone with some jaunty dotted eighth patterns and wind melodies that echo Swedish folk material. Equally interesting is the somewhat dark and ethereal second movement with its foreboding opening clarinet melody. Atterberg intentionally kept this work under twenty minutes on a challenge from fellow composer Natanael Berg and this is a very nice piece that holds your attention throughout.

The fairly brief Värmland Rhapsody sounds a bit like Sibelius; perhaps in its ample use of native folk melodies and makes for a very nicer alternative regional choice to Sibelius Legends, for example.  I think, however, that Atterberg’s Third Suite is a stronger piece and a true highlight of this disc.

The Suite No. 3 was intended as an arrangement for violin, viola and strings of his own incidental music to the Maeterlinck mystery play Soeur Beatrice. This is a positively wonderful and somewhat ethereal work and kudos to the two soloists in this recording, violinist Sara Trobäck Hesselink and violist Per Högberg.

All performances by the Gothenberg Symphony are top notch and maestro Järvi makes a strong case for getting to know the music of Kurt Atterberg better. I look forward hearing the others in the series. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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