“KURT ATTERBERG Orchestral Works, Vol. 2” = ATTERBERG: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 8 – Gothenburg Sym. Orch./ Neeme Jarvi – Chandos

“KURT ATTERBERG Orchestral Works, Vol. 2” = ATTERBERG: Symphony No. 2, Op. 6; Symphony No. 8, Op. 48 – Gothenburg Sym. Orch./ Neeme Jarvi – Chandos CHSA 5133 (2/25/14) [Distr. by Naxos], 61:28 ****: 

Kurt Atterberg and his music were not as well known outside his native Sweden during his lifetime as has become the case over the past thirty years. This is true, in part, because Atterberg was largely self-taught as composer; although he did study at the Royal Swedish Academy, and did not have a network of high profile former teachers and conductors to promote his work. Atterberg, himself, was said to be a great admirer of Sibelius’ music and this fairly conservative, nationalistic style is what the composer sought to emulate.

You can certainly hear the influence of Sibelius in these two works, especially in the opening movement of the Symphony No. 2 in F major, that stems from 1911. Conductor Wilhelm Stenhammar was one of Attenberg’s strongest proponents in Sweden and there are some orchestral piano parts in the second movement, Adagio, that are written in deference to Stenhammar. This is a bold, colorful but also very uplifting and optimistic work that captivates and sparkles. There are moments in the closing and expansive third movement that feature wonderful wind solos and big brass chorales. Interestingly, some critics at the time purportedly found the work excessive at times and complained of unnecessary ‘dissonance.’ Hardly. If anything, this grand and exciting piece may remind some of Sibelius with echoes of film music but it makes for great listening.

The Symphony No. 8 was written in 1944 and shows, in some ways, a more sophisticated Atterberg. This is standard four-movement work that uses several traditional Swedish folk melodies in its texture. Atterberg kept the forces small – for example, just three brass parts – in the hopes that almost community orchestra or ‘provincial’ symphony could play the work. In this work, too, we hear the strains of Sibelius and Atterberg’s own involvement in the Society of Swedish Composers seems to explain this work’s openly proud and regional nature. Of particular interest is the use of a common ‘drinking song’ as well as a regional polska among the folk elements in the finale. Atterberg commented that the tavern song “I would well like to visit you”, is actually a homesick, forlorn melody that he treats as a grand symphony theme in E-minor. The works concludes – as do some of the Sibelius symphonies – on the broad, major mode of E major. This is not a “complex” work to be sure but it, too, makes for wonderful listening.

I am not as familiar with the music of Kurt Atterberg as I would like to be, although I have heard other orchestral works including the oddly titled “Dollar” Symphony (No. 6). [Here’s the earlier review of it…Ed.]  His music is creative, frequently quite exciting and always interesting to hear. Neeme Jarvi has made promoting Atterberg’s orchestral works something of a mission and we are grateful for this and to Chandos for this ongoing series. The performances by the acclaimed Gothenberg Symphony are wonderful as always and Jarvi is a wonderful interpreter of this repertoire. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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