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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Symphony No.9 Op.54 Sinfonia Visionaria (1956)
Älven – The River Op.33 Symphonic Poem (1929)
Satu Vihavainen (mezzo soprano)
Gabriel Suovanen (baritone)
NDR Chor
Prager Kammerchor
NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Ari Rasilainen
Recorded Grosser Sendesaal, Hannover, January 2003
CPO 999 913-2 [60.35]


This concludes CPO’s set of the nine numbered symphonies. The choral Ninth dates from 1956 and is a tough, dark, often unyielding work. Taking as its text a selection from Volupsá (The Face of the Prophetess), saga stories steeped in apocalyptic fatality, Atterberg’s frequently grim introspection also embraces cataclysm and stasis as well as seriousness and moments of lyric ardour. Written for baritone and alto soloists – with one duet – the aesthetic is at times almost remorselessly internalised but generates a powerful sense of symphonic inevitability. After the section, an Introduction, marked Beginning there is some expressive material for the alto before a hieratic, Wagnerian passage for baritone soloist intrudes but in Väl vet hon we can hear an almost "speaking" legato, a sense of consolidated, concentrated power and seriousness which comes before more determined sectional brass writing, chugging strings and wind, whooping horns and warlike percussion. His orchestration is relatively sombre for all these occasional outbursts; a just medium through which to express feelings both bleak and fearful. The duet between the soloists acts as a kind of Adagio section with its own saga-harp interjections and it’s the mezzo soloist who bears the weight of the increasing pessimism of Mycket jag fattat with its trumpet and drum powered determination and implacable choral part. But after the strife and the occasional bludgeoning comes a passage for solo violin and harp and the baritone’s consoling vision even though the mezzo, Satu Vihavainen still retains a punishing edge to her tone and is accompanied by sometimes uneasy orchestral forces. This is a symphony that can never afford to let down its guard. Its consolation is accompanied by constant evaluation; it’s a dark, searing work, complex and forbidding.

All the more apt I suppose that it should be partnered by Älven – The River – a bright, colourful, wonderfully warm symphonic poem. This is the Atterberg that most will recognise – bright primaries, perky, chattering winds, insistent percussion, wonderful drama and drive and orchestral confidence. Listen to the lazy shimmer of the Great Lake or the impulsive horns that announce the Waterfalls as they conjoin with high winds in a long, big-boned sense of animation and surge. Atterberg seems effortlessly to summon up expanse and vista and glittering light seen from afar – and spices things up in the modernistic harbour scene; all raucous tone painting, horn whoops and Nauticalia. And when Atterberg leads us Out to The Sea there is real nobility and grandeur. The ship’s engines are hinted at through the drums as we drive forward, strings lapping their way around the glorious melody.

The performances are in the main unimpeachable, though there were some brief moments of questionable choral unison passages. The works are almost rudely contrastive but constructively so.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett

 



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