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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Orchestral Works - Volume 5
Symphony No.7, Op.45 Sinfonia romantica (1941-42) [28:43]
Symphony No.9, Op.54 Sinfonia visionaria for mezzo, baritone, chorus and orchestra (1955-56) [34:18]
Anna Larsson (mezzo); Olle Persson (baritone)
Gothenburg Symphony Chorus/Mats Nilsson
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (National Orchestra of Sweden)/Neeme Järvi
rec. Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden, 19-20 January 2015 (9); 22-23 January 2015 (7)

Atterberg’s Seventh Symphony was conceived some 13 to 14 years after his sensational victory in 1928, of Columbia’s worldwide composition competition. His Sixth Symphony was duly nicknamed the ‘Dollar Symphony’. This new seventh symphony is based on material Atterberg had used for his opera Fanal. Originally it was cast in four movements but after adverse reviews he decided to drop the finale because, as he himself explained, “It was entirely too long and seemed to suck the air from the three earlier movements.” The main problem was that the musical world since 1928 had become increasingly radical and the tonal melodic late-romantic idiom to which Atterberg obstinately clung was no longer favoured. In fact Atterberg chose to name this, his Sinfonia Romantica to aggravate his carping critics. The opening movement, which Atterberg himself valued, follows his familiar mode with a heavily treading, bombastic opening before his familiar type of heroic theme takes flight. A lengthy contrastingly hushed, more intimate mood follows, its lyricism swept away by brutally frightening figures. Ultimately a hardened trenchant version of the lyrical theme triumphs.

More interesting is the following Semplice Andante that speaks tenderly of intimacy and innocence. It rocks gently at first before the music surges forward, impassioned and voluptuous. The finale was meant to be inspired by the orgy of revolutionary events in the first act of Fanal. Indeed the music is a whirlwind and in parts intimates elemental forces let loose.

I have to say that I think his critics were right in some respects. Here Atterberg is saying very little new from the material and style of his earlier symphonies apart from some more imaginative harmonies and colours.

The single-movement Ninth Symphony is a very different matter. It is scored for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra. It might be thought of as the antithesis of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. This is no Ode to joy. It is just the opposite - an Ode to evil - an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world, its cataclysmic destruction. In these perilous times it could well serve as a timely warning to us all. For fifty years Atterberg had contemplated setting the ancient 1,000 year-old Icelandic poem Vőluspá that prophesised the cataclysm. The poem relates how evil came into the world but begins with primeval dawn and the earliest of days, deploying the sort of atmospheric elemental music that Atterberg had often used so highly evocatively. The odyssey moves forward through the first brutal human murder to accumulating horrors and wars with text proclaiming: “I see far into the future … of the world conflagration and the battle almighty.” Over and over again the dread lines, ‘… Coiling serpent about to swallow the world, it spews forth venom and fire’s heat.” These destructive forces clearly demanded appropriate musical treatment and Atterberg responded with suitable dissonance although it is on record how much he disliked atonality and dodecaphony. Neeme Järvi, the Gothenburg choir and orchestra and Anna Larsson and Olle Persson do not shrink from delivering this extraordinary, harrowing work at high voltage.

This Fifth Volume of Atterberg's Orchestral works concludes this notable Chandos series (Volumes 1 & 2 ~ Volume 3 ~ Volume 4). As good as it is - a pity we did not have a new recording of the West Coast Pictures Symphony - I have to say that the Atterberg symphonies set that impressed me more was that from Ari Rasilainen on CPO (review).

Ian Lace


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