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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Cello Concerto in C minor, Op 21 (1917-1922) [38:31]
Horn Concerto in A major, Op. 28 (1926) [20:46]
Nikolai Schneider (cello); Johannes-Theodor Wiemes (horn)
NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover/Ari Rasilainen
rec. 29 January–2 February 2007, Großer Sendesaal, NDR Hannover
CPO 999 874-2 [59:22]

In recent months I’ve been listening to Neeme Järvi’s continuing cycle of Atterberg symphonies for Chandos (review ~ review ~ review). Like some of my colleagues I’ve admired aspects of Järvi’s work but have also expressed reservations. I mention this because the Järvi discs have prompted me to listen once again to Ari Rasilainen’s complete cycle of the symphonies for CPO and I have to say that in most cases where I’ve made comparisons I’ve preferred Rasilainen’s approach. He made his recordings between 1998 and 2003 and used three separate orchestras, including the NDR Radiophilharmonie who were on duty for the Third, Sixth and Ninth symphonies. Thus the arrival of this present disc for review was extremely welcome, especially as it contains two concertos that were previously unknown to me.

As the dates imply, composition of the Cello Concerto occupied Atterberg for several years. He was working on both the concerto and the Fifth Symphony during this time but apparently work on both scores was frequently interrupted by other projects. Atterberg was a cellist himself and sufficiently accomplished that he himself played the solo part in the work’s Swedish premiere in 1924 – the first performance took place in Germany in 1923 and on that occasion Atterberg was on the conductor’s rostrum.

The Cello Concerto is in three movements which play without a break. The first movement opens with a substantial Andante cantabile introduction in which there’s a good deal of plaintive, ruminative writing for the soloist. The main body of the movement, an Allegro, is often passionate and the soloist is kept very busy. Here the solo part is taken by Nikolai Schneider, the solo cellist with the NDR Radiophilharmonie since 1996. I admire his virtuosity very much but even more do I admire the lustrous quality of his tone. At 10:31, after a still and pensive passage for the soloist, a nimble scherzo-like section begins and this occupies the remainder of the movement.

The slow movement, an Adagio, affords ample opportunity to enjoy Nikolai Schneider’s singing tone. The music is profound and meditative. This soulful movement is eloquently played, not just by Schneider but also by his orchestral colleagues. The finale is marked Allegro. It’s scarcely got into its stride before its progress is stalled by what I take to be the cadenza – I haven’t seen a score. This is quite a lengthy section (0:54 – 2:58) and partway through the soloist’s efforts are underpinned by a quiet timpani roll. Once the movement resumes its course I have to say that I’m not entirely clear of Atterberg’s direction of travel. Much of the music is lively but there’s a lengthy slow digression, reminiscing, I think, about the Adagio. The end of the concerto almost comes as a surprise. If I’m not entirely convinced by the finale I’m certainly impressed by the first two movements. I’m impressed also by the quality of the performance. Nikolai Schneider is a fine soloist and he receives excellent support from Rasilainen and the orchestra.

Another NDR Radiophilharmonie principal is in the spotlight for the Horn Concerto. Johannes-Theodor Wiemes has been the orchestra’s principal horn since 1988 and on the evidence of this performance he too is an extremely accomplished player. This concerto took Atterberg far less time to write than the Cello Concerto. The scoring is rather unusual – but highly effective. The orchestra consists of strings, piano and percussion. This scoring is at times somewhat brittle, especially in the first movement – I don’t mean that in a derogatory way – and the lean orchestration acts as a fine foil to the rich tones of the solo instrument. The booklet notes suggest that the concerto’s three movements are played without a break but, in fact, there are short pauses between each movement in this performance.

The first movement, marked Allegro patetico, has a demanding solo part, often lying in the horn’s high register. This movement exploits what I might term the commanding side of the horn. The Adagio, by contrast, brings the instrument’s cantabile side into full focus. Here the soloist is given ample opportunity to deliver long, lyrical lines, an opportunity seized upon by Wiemes. The piano is very prominent in the accompaniment and this prominence is an inspired touch on Atterberg’s part. Indeed, the scoring of this movement is very atmospheric and I found the music very appealing. It’s very well played here. Finally there is a short rondo finale marked Allegro molto. This, it seems to me, is much more straightforward than the comparable movement in the Cello Concerto. It’s a dancing and cheerful movement that communicates directly with the listener. Wiemes’ dexterous performance is admirable.

I’ve enjoyed encountering this pair of attractive concertos very much. I doubt if either will ever be a repertory piece but they’re well worth hearing and the present performances make the best possible case for them. The recorded sound is very good. Unfortunately the notes, or at least the English translation of them, leave quite a bit to be desired. Admirers of Kurt Atterberg’s music should seek out this disc without delay.

John Quinn



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