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Symphony No. 7, Op. 45 (1941-2, revised 1972), Sinfonia Romantica [33:59]
Symphony No. 8, Op. 48 (1944-5) [34:33]
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Michail
rec. Malmö Concert Hall on 10-15 August 1998. World Premiere Recording (7) STERLING CDS1026-2 [68:42]
Kurt Atterberg’s Symphony No. 6 was written in 1928 as an entry in Columbia Records’ Schubert Centenary competition. Atterberg won the competition and his work (now known as the “Dollar Symphony”) received performances all over Europe and beyond. However, it was 14 years before Atterberg decided to write another symphony, and, unlike the
sixth, the new symphony, and its successor, would be based on pre-existing material.
In 1942 Atterberg was re-examining the score of his opera Fanal (1929-1932) and found much of the material of the opera to be symphonic in nature. He decided to use some of the Fanal music as the basis for a fully symphonic work. He also intended this symphony as a Romantic manifesto against modern compositional trends, hence its title, Sinfonia Romantica. Originally in the standard four movements, the last movement was later withdrawn by Atterberg, who used some of the material in his late orchestral work, Vittorioso.
The Sinfonia Romantica begins with a regular sonata-allegro movement, which, after opening fanfares, is based on a vigorous and decisive theme. Originally Atterberg intended the movement to be built around the best-known aria from Fanal but eventually found that he had a full symphonic movement even with the aria removed. There is a second and gentler theme but the highpoint of the movement is a folk-like interlude based on the main theme. The writing for winds, so important in Atterberg, is breathtaking throughout the movement. In the Andante one of the composer’s typical folk-like themes is developed in true “Nordic” fashion. There is a nod to Sibelius here but the orchestration and polytonal harmony are pure Atterberg. The central section shows the composer at his most Romantic before a return to the opening music, this time augmented by the horns. The last movement is based on a series of dances from the first act of Fanal. Atterberg treats these dances in a completely symphonic fashion, but the dance element is always present and although the coda is almost tragic, the dance element asserts itself again as the symphony ends.
Only two years after completing the Sinfonia Romantica, Atterberg decided to write a symphony based on Swedish folksongs. He had already done something similar with the Symphony No. 4 (Sinfonia Piccola) but in the new work Atterberg was concerned to write a symphony that avoided the two pitfalls of a mere fantasy on folk-tunes and a true symphony that obscured the folk nature of the original material (see Sinfonia Piccola). To accomplish this Atterberg based the symphony on the harmonic progression E-minor/C-minor/A-major/E-minor.
The symphony opens with a mysterious introduction before the presentation of the well-known (in Sweden at least) Cavalier’s Song but in a jaunty fashion rather than the melancholy one that is usually heard. This is contrasted with a drinking song from Västmanland (somewhat northwest of Stockholm) and the two are developed with great imagination, and some of the composer’s most felicitous orchestration, before a gripping coda. The slow movement is again introduced by the Cavalier’s Song followed by the main theme, a nostalgic song also from Central Sweden. Underneath throughout the movement is the interval E-flat/G. The entrance of the second theme on strings is beautifully prepared and a highlight of the whole symphony. There is a slight suggestion of Grieg here. The scherzo movement is Atterberg’s version of a rondo, with two dance tunes cleverly combined, while the last movement is notable for its brilliant development of both material from the scherzo and a new song from the island of Öland on the south-east coast. As the themes become more and more integrated and compressed we have a true exemplar of the composer’s technical skill.
These recordings are almost twenty years old and the sound is rather indistinct and muffled. But the playing of the Malmö orchestra remains as an example of spirited performance, especially in the crucial woodwinds. The Malmö Symphony have a true feeling for Atterberg’s phrasing and sense of orchestral color. The same can be said for Michail Jurowski. His rendering of the Sinfonia Romantica is excellent in all regards, but in the 8th he produces as fine an Atterberg performance as one is likely to hear. Phrasing, pacing, regard for orchestral color are all completely idiomatic. Those who own the complete symphony sets by Järvi or Rasilainen (see below) will probably not also need this disc, but it stands out, especially in the 8th, as an expert example of Atterberg performance.