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Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Symphony No. 4 Sinfonia piccola composed on Swedish National Melodies (1918) [19.59]
Symphony No. 6 Dollar Symphony (1927-28) [27.12]
Suite No. 3 * Op. 19 No. 1 (1921) [14.30]
En värmlandsrapsodi (1933) [7.57]
Sara Trobäck Hesselink * (violin); Per Högberg * (viola)
Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Concert Hall, Gothenberg, Sweden; 31 May - 8 June 2012.
CHANDOS CHSA5116 [70.14]

It seems that Chandos, are now turning their attention to the music of Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg. It never ceases to amaze me that this composer’s music is still not appreciated as much as it deserves to be. I remember being completely bowled over when Rob Barnett, our editor, introduced me to Atterberg’s Symphony No. 3 in D major West Coast Pictures many years ago in the form of a 1982 recording made by Sixten Ehrling conducting the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (Caprice CAP 23164). Since then I have been completely hooked on this composer’s music. For lovers of Late Romantic music Atterberg presses all the right buttons: his music is arresting, melodic, atmospheric and evocative, and colourful and exciting. Much of it is reminiscent of the film music of Hollywood greats such as Korngold, Steiner or Waxman.
 
This new album, with performances and recorded sound that place it ahead of the competition, has an adventurous programme including a coupling of two of his most appealing symphonies.
 
Probably the best-known of Atterberg’s symphonies is his Sixth Symphony because of its famous - some might say infamous - origin. In 1928 to mark the centenary of the death of Schubert the Columbia Phonograph Company decided to mark the occasion by inviting composers to complete Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. The idea caused a storm of protest such that Columbia was forced to change the invitation to writing a symphony in the style of Schubert. The response was enormous: a total entry of 500 pieces from 26 countries was received. Atterberg’s work, his Sixth Symphony, won the top place in the Nordic Region competition. Among the judges was Carl Nielsen and it subsequently won the top prize of $10,000 in the grand finale. Atterberg treated himself to a new Ford Model A motorcar with some of the proceeds.
 
The Dollar Symphony as Atterberg’s Sixth Symphony came to be known is a very striking and accessible work. The music of the opening movement could have been penned for an Errol Flynn swashbuckler romance. Its tone is brazenly noble and heroic with thrilling fanfares, a dash of romance and a little folk material. The lovely central Adagio is sweetly lyrical with a gorgeous long-breathed theme over rippling ostinatos with a suggestion maybe of gentle breezes skimming over placid lake waters working up slowly to an impassioned climax reminiscent of the finale of Atterberg’s West Coast Pictures Third Symphony. The scampering finale brings one back to earth with a perky, cheeky lampooning of Hollywood-style material.
 
The Symphony No. 4 Sinfonia piccolo, based on Swedish national melodies begins ferociously and urgently but soon calms. A merry rustic tune over a restless ostinato takes over. Sibelius-like quivering strings, soft horn-calls and pert woodwinds add atmosphere before urgent drum-rolls summon a short stormy episode that is banished to make way for happy-go-lucky, tuneful material. A quiet long-held note mysteriously opens the exquisite second movement, pastoral in character, possibly a serene landscape where winter is giving way to spring. The music here develops into a magical, romantically lyrical episode with sweeping strings and tender horn-calls. The very brief buoyant scherzo struts and brags while the finale dances away happily to a witty ending.
 
Atterberg’s beautiful and affecting Suite No. 3 is scored for strings with solo passages for a violin and a viola. It was written as incidental music to a play set in a convent where a nun is abducted by her lover as she prays beneath a statue of the Virgin Mary. Without anybody noticing anything, Mary takes the nun’s place to avoid scandal. Many years later the nun returns penitent and dying, and realises the full extent and consequences of her offences.
 
Atterberg’s suite is set in three movements with the solo violin affecting the part of the nun while the viola is the lover. The opening Prelude is sacred and pious in style, and reminiscent of Vaughan Williams mystical music as is material in the second movement which pitches the unsure and vulnerable feelings of the nun against the ardent pleadings of her lover. The finale’s material is in the form of a distorted waltz, carrying memories of the nun’s sinful past and recalling Sibelius’s Valse Triste.
 
En värmlandsrapsodi emerges as a fond - almost, in places, a dreamily, magical idyll. It brims with quotations from popular regional melodies and one is struck by how seemingly accurately Atterberg’s orchestration uncannily imitates the ‘rural dialectic’ playing of these tunes. Delius, too, is not far away.
 
Technicolor music in first class performances and recorded sound.
 
Ian Lace
 

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