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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Värmlands Rhapsody, Op. 36 (1951-52) [9:05]
Violin Concerto, Op. 7 (1913) [37:03]
Overture in a minor, Op. 4 (1910-11) [13:18]
Ulf Wallin, violin
Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin/Roger Epple
rec. 2-4 November 2004  Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin.
CPO 777 106-2 [59:26]
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Of all the remarkable musical careers of the twentieth century, Kurt Atterberg’s is amongst the most interesting and important. This is not only for its diversity of activities, but also for the fervent dedication to Swedish music that this composer, critic, performer, administrator, conductor and yes, electrical engineer exhibited.
Born in 1887 to an inventor father and a mother whose own father was a respected opera singer, Atterberg seemed destined at birth to his dual career. Forbidden by his father to study the piano - an event that was to have a profound impact on the young boy’s determination to be a musician - when he was a child, he later was permitted to take up the cello, an instrument upon which he performed professionally for the rest of his life. Simultaneously educated in both electrical engineering and music, Atterberg would accept a position in the Swedish patent office that would keep him financially secure enough to compose. He retained this position until he was forced, under great protest, into retirement at the astounding age of 81. All the while, Atterberg composed prolifically, conducted and performed all over Europe and was the co-founder and administrator of a number of important support organizations for Swedish musicians.
Now that I have experienced about a dozen or so of Atterberg’s works, I can only say thanks be to God and CPO for this ongoing exploration of a truly first rate composer’s music. Opening the Värmlands Rhapsody from the 1950s, this is a work that is highly reflective of the snowy Scandinavian harmonies best expressed through the music of Grieg. This brief and lovely piece is born of a kind of dreamy wintriness that is immediately captivating.  The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra is in fine form and good hands under the baton of Roger Epple, who brings out the lushness of this score without allowing it to become syrupy or overwrought. It is music that is carefully expressive and subtly beautiful.
Not since Samuel Barber’s nearly perfect violin concerto have I heard such a ravishing score in this genre. Ulf Wallin’s tone is wonderfully burnished, warm and lush and yet he also plays with great clarity and flexibility. The substantial opening movement is full of drama and force, but all with a distinct and clear purpose. Melodic enough to be memorable, there is ample opportunity for the soloist to display his chops. Yet this virtuosity is never empty or meaningless. Long soaring phrases abound and the first movement cadenza is powerful in the most positive sense. The slow middle movement is wrought with the utmost care and the sweeping, soaring melodies are overwhelmingly beautiful. The work closes with great power and determination, but the writing never steps out of the realm of the beautiful. Wallin and Epple have a great symbiotic relationship as musicians and this is playing of the utmost sympathy and expressive power from both soloist and orchestra.
The program is rounded out with a much earlier work that is bold in its virtuosity and smacks heavily of the confidence and brashness of youth. Nonetheless, it is the work of a master composer and makes for some very pleasant listening indeed.
Frankly, there is little that is less than superlative to be said of Atterberg’s music, and I am thrilled to see that it is gaining a wider audience, if only through the medium of recordings. Now, let’s see if we can get a few of our woefully conservative symphony orchestras here in the U.S. wake up and discover that composers other than Beethoven and Brahms turned out some splendid and dare I say it, accessible music. Any listener who would not be pleased by this superb music should take the next available appointment for a hearing examination.
This is a disc not to be missed.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Rob Barnett


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