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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Piano Concerto (1927-35) [34.12]
Violin Concerto (1913-14) [37.06]
Don Franklin Smith (piano)
Christian Bergkvist (violin)
Gävle SO/B Tommy Andersson
rec May/June 1999, Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden
STERLING CDS1034-2 [71.28]

Atterberg’s concertos fit nicely onto a disc. The Violin Concerto was completed in 1914. His First Symphony had been conducted by Max von Schillings in Stuttgart and a golden future beckoned in Germany for the most-performed Swedish composer in the country. And a meeting with the important figure of violinist Henri Marteau galvanized him toward writing the concerto which was to be premiered by Sven Kjellström.

Atterberg sends the soloist on his way immediately, the orchestra taking up the richly romantic argument, to which the violin responds with a sweetly singing lyric line. The figuration in the first movement cadenza is excellent, and the final orchestral paragraphs are notably confident. The slow movement reveals just how adept Atterberg was at song-without-words innocence, though he also brings an aptly melancholic yearning to the central panel, to which Christian Bergqvist responds with an appropriately keening tone. There’s a rich orchestral palette behind the soloist’s musing solitude. But this isn’t a static work, as the finale’s opening dramatic solo flourish against orchestral trill demonstrates. The rather folksy theme and slightly Sibelian landscape orchestration drive the work’s geography northwards. Certainly the sense of arrested but indomitable motion is Sibelian in inspiration but Atterberg has the courage to end his work quietly.

The gestation of the Piano Concerto was more problematic. It was started in 1927 but not finally finished until 1935. Rather like a refraction of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, the soloist is involved from the beginning, the music remaining bracingly romantic, though some of the writing’s craggy rhythms sound uncannily like Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto. Some lovely solo violin tracery around the piano’s decorative lines brings a sense of fancy and fantasy. This is as much a concertante work as a fully-fledged concerto, colour and high romance being prominent elements. Picking out wisps of a tune against muted strings, the piano sounds quasi-improvisational in the Andante, where a Nordic folk tune emerges with great beauty, almost filmic in its breadth and richness. This movement reaches delicious heights and if John Barry had been composing in 1935 he’d have loved it. The finale sounds like a fast Nordic folk dance, surging but full of contrast, and with a very Rachmaninovian ending.

There’s a great deal to admire in these splendidly realised performances. If you’re looking for somewhat out-of-the-way repertoire you could do a lot worse than encounter this Atterberg brace.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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