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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Barocco: Suite no.5 for chamber orchestra op.23 (1923) [16:36]
Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, op.57 (1960) [18:47]
Sinfonia per archi, op.53 (1951-53; 1955) [30:13]
Amus Kerstin Andersson (violin)
Mats Levin (cello)
Írebro Chamber Orchestra/Thord Svedlund
rec. 1995, Írebro Concert Hall, Sweden

It was the first work in this CD that really attracted my attention. Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg’s Barocco: Suite no.5 for chamber orchestra op.23 is a splendid example of neo-classical music. The piece was produced at the same time as he was writing incidental music for a production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. It was a pattern. The music from several plays were later re-presented as Suites. Would that other composers had done this: I think of Norman O’Neill and Benjamin Britten. So much music has been lost because it was deemed ephemeral. Atterberg has written (in his unpublished memoirs) that in his younger days he enjoyed the keyboard Sonatas of Scarlatti and Corelli’s violin music. In fact, he often used the latter’s music in his incidental music to Shakespeare’s plays. The Barocco Suite is pure pastiche nodding to these composers (and others). It contains six short movements with ‘historical’ titles: Entrata, Sarabande, Gavotta, Pastorale-Gagliardi, Siciliana and Giga. Kurt Atterberg has created music that delights by being ancient and modern at the same time. There are plenty of beautiful melodies, charming harmonies and rhythmic delights with just a little ‘bite’ here and there.

The Sinfonia for strings is a different kettle of fish. This work can be played by either a chamber orchestra or a string quintet. It was composed in 1955. Rob Barnett has wisely noted that when this piece was premiered, it would have been regarded as reactionary. It seems that at this time, the composer began to feel that his music was no longer being appreciated. However, according to the liner notes, the work was a success and led to the composition of the Symphony no. 9 in 1957. Certainly, there is not a whiff of serialism to be heard. Romanticism seems to be the order of the day. Expansive tunes and rich harmonies are heard alongside passages that are occasionally a little ‘grittier.’ The work is cast in four movements with the slow movement being third. It is a considerable work that lasts just over the half-hour. I guess that if the listener likes Frank Bridge’s Suite for Strings or Michael Tippett’s Concerto for string orchestra, they will love this work. There is a story that somewhere, somehow, in the heart-breakingly beautiful slow movement the composer has embedded the phone number of an ‘opera lady’ after becoming infatuated with her at a party given to celebrate the premiere of his opera The Storm. It is a lovely thought.

The main event on this CD is the premiere recording of Atterberg’s Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, op.57 composed in 1960. According to the composer, it is the last piece of his music worth performing. In fact, apart from a Suite based on music from The Storm and a chamber version of this present concerto, there does not seem to be much else. The liner notes suggest that the genesis of the concerto was a Small Suite of Swedish Tunes composed in 1957. The Concerto is presented as a single movement, with several sections or episodes. The track listing presents this progress divided by bar number, which, without the score, is a wee bit pointless. But I get the idea. When I first listened to this piece, I was underwhelmed. Yet on further reflection, I see that it is deliberately understated and is created without dramatic gestures. It is an ‘old and experienced man’s wise reflections.’ Although, I hasten to add, 73 years of age is hardly old! The soloists, Amus Kerstin Andersson, violin and Mats Levin, cello perform this intimate concerto with understanding and enthusiasm.

The playing in these three pieces is brilliant. The recorded sound, despite being nearly quarter of a century old, is clear and vibrant in all the pieces, most especially the Sinfonia per archi. The liner notes put all three works into context with copious quotations from the composer’s unpublished memoirs. Surely, publication of this document must be an important project for students of Swedish and Scandinavian music.

This is a splendid CD of music by one of the great post-Romantic composers from Sweden. It makes a valuable contribution to the growing catalogue of his music currently available on CD or download.

John France

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