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Piano Concerto, Op. 37 (1927-35) [34.12]
Violin Concerto, Op. 7 (1913-14) [37.06]
Don Franklin Smith (piano); Christian Bergkvist (violin); Gävle Symphony Orchestra; B. Tommy Andersson (conductor). DDD
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden 25-27 May 1999 (piano); 10-12 June 1999
(violin) STERLING CDS1034-2 [71.28]
Kurt Atterberg is best remembered today for his symphonies, and to a lesser extent, for his orchestral suites. But he also wrote five concertos, for cello, horn, and a double concerto for violin and cello, besides the two on this disc. The concertos contain the same pictorial Romanticism found in the symphonies but the addition of a solo instrument, at least in these two concertos, serves to provide a focus sometimes lacking in certain of the composer's other works.
Although only Atterberg’s Op. 7, the Violin Concerto was written when Atterberg was already prominent on the Swedish musical scene, having been successful with his Symphony No.1 and the first version of the Symphony No. 2. The work opens with a very decisive, almost incisive, main theme, yielding to a more pastoral and lyrical second one, the latter beautifully elaborated in the course of the movement. The music alternates between pastoral and dramatic sections and the orchestration is very effective, especially in the use of the woodwinds. The highpoint is the return of the second theme after the soloist’s cadenza followed by a coda combining both themes. The slow movement reminds one of folksong, being tuneful and somewhat modal, but still on a pretty large scale and with moments of austerity before an impassioned coda. The rondo third movement continues the forward thrust of the whole concerto and shows Atterberg’s skill with the rondo form both in terms of thematic combination and shifts in tonality. Especially notable is a lyrical passage towards the end of the movement with the solo horn summing up the whole concerto before the music dies away.
By the time he came to write his Piano Concerto Atterberg’s mature style was fully developed, especially the pentatonic elements that figure strongly in the concerto. The work has been compared to the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in that the piano is more a member of the orchestra than a soloist, although it attains a more primary position as the work progresses and the piano part is always strenuous if not exhausting. The work actually begins with a motif on the piano before the soloist embroiders the beautiful and powerful main theme. Several motifs follow, including a slow theme that is a highlight of the whole concerto and the various motifs are developed with great skill and with some of Atterberg’s most beautiful orchestration. The slow movement is singular in that its opening may remind listeners of the early Atterberg, as exemplified by the Violin Concerto, but the beautiful middle section has elements of the polytonality already mentioned. The movement ends softly and we are immediately in the rondo, appropriately marked Furioso. Like the last movement of the Violin Concerto this movement is a rondo, but shows greater skill in its construction and in its contrast of material. It is also a preeminent example of the composer’s rhythmic abilities. The brass, as well as the bassoons, is especially prominent in this movement, and one is left both exhilarated and impressed by this powerful music.
These recordings are easily comparable to their contemporaneous matches on the cpo label (see reviews by Kevin Sutton and Rob Barnett for Violin Concerto; see link for Piano Concerto). Indeed the sound quality is somewhat warmer than in the cpo versions and Christian Bergqvist’s performance of the Violin Concerto is more impassioned than that of Ulf Wallin. The recordings of Dan Franklin Smith and Love Derwinger in the Piano Concerto are about equal.
Wonderful music in excellent performances and a perfect introduction to Atterberg’s works.