> Kurt Atterberg - Symphonies 2 & 5 [IL]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Symphony No. 2 in F major (1913)
Symphony No. 5 in D minor (1922)
Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt/Ari Rasilainen
recorded March 6-11 2000, Sendesaal des HR
CPO 999 565-2 [75:34]




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Ari Rasilainen’s impressive cycle of Atterberg symphonies continues with these powerful readings of two of the composer’s most dramatic works. Atterberg’s symphonies are immediately accessible, replete with strong melodies and a language that appeals directly to the senses. As such it is strange that his music is comparatively little known today particularly since it was very popular in Germany and Sweden in the earlier decades of the 20th century. Toscanini even championed his music with his NBC Orchestra.

Atterberg’s substantial, 40-or-so-minute Symphony No. 2 was composed between 1911 and 1913. In its original form, as a two-movement work, i.e. the first movement and another combining the slow movement and scherzo, it was first performed in Gothenberg in 1912. In its revised three-movement form, it was premiered in Sondershausen in July 1913. It was performed by some of the leading conductors of the day including Nikisch and Richard Strauss. A fast-flowing work in all three movements, it is restless and heroic. One senses not only the turbulence of nature but also of nationalistic ardour. There is a hint of Mahler but the influence of Wagner is stronger: Tannhaüser and Siegfried Idyll particularly reminiscent. Bax may come to mind too. There is a touch of humour in the central movement and some material has its origins in folk music.

The Fifth Symphony was composed between 1917 and 1922. It was to prove highly successful in Germany such that it led to a contract with the music publishers Breitkopf and Härtel who accepted three of his symphonies. Possibly, in 1922, after the defeat of their aspirations in the Great War, German audiences felt an empathy with the sentiments of this rather darker tinged work? A German reviewer said it was, "…enveloped in a dark-violet cloak over which black veils wave..." But this is not a work full of gloom by any means, for here anxiety clashes with angry defiance. Quiet, brooding and yearning is swept aside by music that shakes an iron fist at fate. The central movement is elegiac and has a melody that would have made Max Steiner jealous. But the most interesting and the most substantial movement (at just over 15 minutes) comes last. It includes remarkable use of dynamics, colour and shading. It begins confidently with the music dashing forward. At one point, there is material that is quasi-oriental. Then there is a starkly dramatic passage for divided strings against brutal horn figures. Suddenly, the music is overtaken by a grotesque sardonic waltz that suggests Teutonic might rather than Ravelian subtlety. This tips over eventually into resignation and a sad elegiac conclusion.

Virile, Late-Romantic music full of colour and excitement given powerful, committed performances. Another jewel in Rasilainen’s Atterberg symphonies cycle.

Ian Lace

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