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
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.
see also review by Rob Barnett