ATTERBERG: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4 =  Sym. ‘Västkustbilder’; Three Nocturnes; Vittorioso – Gothenburg Sym. Orch. /Neeme Järvi – Chandos

by | Jul 2, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

Excellent performances of works as part of a resurgence.

KURT ATTERBERG: Orchestral Works, Volume 4 =  Symphony No. 3, Op. 10 ‘Västkustbilder’; Three Nocturnes, Op.35bis; Vittorioso, Op. 58 – Gothenburg Sym. Orch./Neeme Järvi – Chandos  CHAN10894, 62:23 (3/25/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The music of twentieth century composer Kurt Atterberg has been undergoing quite a resurgence these past twenty or so years with many recordings, especially of his symphonies, and other orchestral pieces getting a lot of attention. This is volume four of a particularly interesting set with conductor Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony, as part of this resurgence.

What little I have heard of the Atterberg symphonies, in particular, I have enjoyed and the present Symphony No. 3, ‘West Coast Pictures’, is certainly the focal point of this album. With the movement subtitles “Summer Haze”, “Storm” and “Summer Night”, this is a work clearly designed to be a set of three short ‘tone poems’ of sorts that depict the composer’s impressions of the Swedish west coast. Originally, Atterberg wrote the three movements quite separately and only after a couple of performances of the first two, deciding to write a third a reconsider the work as a symphony. As is often the case, the initial critics were not overwhelmingly positive toward the separate “pictures” and questioned the validity of a symphony composed in this fashion.

None the less, this third Symphony is, for me, a very engaging work filled with wonderful orchestral color and, interestingly, this work helps to establish the three movement pattern that Atterberg used in his other symphonies. The other two works here are interesting little snapshots of Atterberg’s skill in orchestration and exotic scenarios.

The Three Nocturnes are actually three orchestral extracts from his 1932 opera, Fanal (The Beacon.) The storyline is extracted from of a set of legendary events purported to have taken place during the German Peasants’ War of 1525. Essentially, a young princess on the wrong side of the revolution (as royalty one would expect that..) is doomed to be executed but the executioner turns out to be a mysterious figure who helps her escape and reunite with her family; as the rebels have been crushed. The music is quite beautiful in places and evokes the drama from which it came.

Vittorioso also has ties to the opera Fanal. Atterberg’s Seventh Symphony was one of the few to have had a fourth movement; all four of which contained melodies from the opera. Vittorioso was to be the fourth movement to the Symphony No. 7 and, in fact, can be performed as such. However, this is rarely done and this fairly short but exciting work is typically played as a fourth nocturne.

I personally enjoyed the album quite a bit and am motivated to become more familiar with the other releases in Järvi’s Atterberg series. For many American orchestras, Atterberg’s music is still a fascinating rarity but the symphonies, in particular, warrant more frequent hearings.

—Daniel Coombs

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