Atterberg was still in his early twenties when he composed his Symphony No. 2 and its youthful enthusiasm and vigour is very evident. This buoyancy is conveyed much more successfully by Neeme Järvi in this admirable new Chandos recording than the rival cpo recording made by Ari Rasilainen on CPO in March 2000 who chose to take a much slower more meditative approach. It is interesting to note the differences in timings for the Symphony’s three movements:
Järvi’s approach more vividly evokes the natural elements of the Symphony, the movement of Swedish waters, birdsong and flight (wild geese?). There is so much more of a sense of cinematic splendour in Järvi’s reading. I have commented before about Atterberg’s heroic/romantic music and here again when listening to this new CD, the Steiner and Korngold scores for the old Errol Flynn and Bette Davis films come back to mind so easily. Even the folk tunes the composer uses are rendered heroically. This rendition is that much more appealing: more melodic, faster, tighter and more cogent than Rasilainen who adopts a more relaxed reading of darker hues but with more turbulence and some powerful brass chorales. In the second movement, Järvi adds yearning to the mix plus material that suggests mythical monsters such as trolls as well as gales and storms. The third movement has a heroic march.
Some thirty three years and five more symphonies separate the two Atterberg works presented here. Once again folk material informs his Eighth Symphony. To my ears, this work disappoints although Sibelius thought it was “wonderfully cogent”. For me, it seems to be revisiting, re-treading too much that has gone before. Composed while the world was preoccupied with the horrors of World War II, it begins with foreboding but broadens to encompass a number of moods including flirtation, pathos and skittishness, as well as embracing natural phenomena and climatic turbulence. Interestingly one might detect influences of Sibelius (his Valse Triste especially at one point) and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Another worthy addition to Järvi’s new Atterberg series for Chandos; I look forward with great anticipation to his reading of Atterberg’s wonderful Third Symphony “West Coast Pictures”.