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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 1999 and June 1999 respectively at Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden STERLING CDS-1034-2 [71.28]
This is a very late edition to these reviews and will be repeated next month. The disc may not be avalable for purchase until then



This CD is definitely 'hot off the presses' having not yet been announced at the time of writing (4 October 1999). I am grateful to Bo Hyttner (Sterling's guiding light) for allowing me what seems to have been an advance copy. Look also at how recently the recording sessions took place!

Atterberg's Scandinavian romantic music has benefited from the collective effort (probably uncoordinated) of a variety of labels. The symphonies are now all in the bag apart from Symphony No. 9 and (like Malcolm Arnold) a Symphony for Strings. Outstanding and presumably to come in due course would be recordings of the double concerto, the extremely fine three interludes from the Arabian Nights opera, Fanal and the tone poem The River (nothing to do with Palmgren's similarly titled second piano concerto).

The piano sets a commanding presence in the concerto from the very beginning. This work positively radiates glinting muscularity of a decidedly Rachmaninovian caste. The parallel works, stylistically speaking, are the concertos by Arensky, Scriabin (very strong resemblances) and Rachmaninov 1 and 4. The American pianist has given this piece in concert and his seeming confidence and command are patent in the cascading fury of the first movement. The recording's healthy spatial qualities suggest a massive expanse of hall and a wide-span for the orchestra. There is some mordant work for the horns and at 7.30 ice cavern imagery. The andante lopes and swoons along in a Griegian Gothic trance though once or twice I couldn't help thinking about Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The tunes here are of a warm pulsing succulence and a satisfyingly dewy melancholy. The finale misses the level of inspiration of the first two movements but not by much. There is a slightly Coatesian character to the galumphing theme. Smith's shaping of the theme at 3.03 is accomplished with utmost sensitivity. Smith is not a barnstormer by nature though when required he can storm barns with the best. A concerto which all lovers of the late-romantic era must hear.

The Violin Concerto is in three movements with a tautly spun web of string tremolandi providing a bed over which the violin sings the main theme with husky concentration and then with warm sweetness (2.48). There are many persuasive and subtle coups in the orchestra (the Gävle orchestra is most impressive) like the gentle pizzicato notes at 9.55. In the central movement Atterberg skilfully and yet spontaneously treads the line between sentiment and sentimentality. Here the violin is the sweet singer of songs - a partner to the Finzi Introit. The horn contributions in the finale are thick with hoar frost and an icy-blast cuts through the textures. Atterberg's ideas seem to flow like wine and in flooding abundance - coup follows imaginative coup. He tops things off by ending the concerto with a valorously audacious ppp floating close to the doe-eyed trance of Rimsky's Sheherazade.

With typical self-effacement Mr Hyttner makes no reference to the fact that these are recording premieres. They have been known, if at all, to those fortunate enough to have heard off-air tapes. Jacob Moscowicz (whose Sterling CD of the Piano Concerto by Natanael Berg I hope to review soon) broadcast the piano concerto over Swedish Radio with the Stockholm PO conducted by Sten Frykberg. Helga Hussels gave us the violin concerto in a radio studio tape with the Goteborg SO and Erich Schmid. Both performances are full of character but in the hands of Smith and Bergkvist we have eloquently persuasive versions to treasure and enjoy.

Production values in Sterling discs are always high. Note the number of days given over to the recording sessions for these works. This is a major cultural achievement for all concerned and tribute should be paid to the enlightened policy of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs. Would that such spirit were to be found in the UK!

These are deeply enjoyable works of lively mastery. Anyone who has been collecting the Hyperion romantic piano concerto series must not miss them. The Sterling discs in their splendid gold livery (and in the case of both this disc and the Atterberg 7 and 8 featuring paintings by Eric Hallström) are eminently collectible. This is a label (rather like the Lyrita and Hyperion labels) that consistently achieves excellence in all aspects. Each issue is looked forward to with eager anticipation. It is our loss that our major-dominated media seem too often to overlook Sterling's delights. Do explore Atterberg and what better place to start than these two starry concertos.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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