Atterberg

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Atterberg
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Atterberg
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 5
PERFORMER: Gothenburg Symphony/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5154 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg was one of the Scandinavian school that flourished in the wake of Sibelius and Nielsen, but was also in their shadow. He began studying music while already taking an engineering degree, and became, as well as a prolific composer and celebrated conductor, a patent office official; but he was in no sense an amateur. His music is recognisably Scandinavian, influenced by Brahms and the Russian school but with a lyrical, vigorous style, and a conservative, classicist idiom which left him increasingly unfashionable.

His First Symphony, created while a student, is clearly young man’s work. It’s given to rhetorical flourishes and reminiscences of other composers, but it is lively and unmistakeably accomplished; it was soon performed internationally, by Nielsen and Stokowski among others. The Adagio fourth movement, added after a scholarship tour of Germany, is dramatically better. The Fifth is much finer and more personal, less ‘funereal’ than a mysterious danse macabre, headed by the Oscar Wilde quotation ‘Each man kills the thing he loves.’ In fact, with its Romantic richness and driving dark energy, it’s no detraction to say it prefigures classic 1930s and ’40s horror film scores. After the shadowy, intense first movement, the lento second becomes a lamenting funeral march. The third and fourth, inspired by a frenetic masked ball, whirl deeper into darkness, with an almost pathetic conclusion.

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Neeme Järvi’s performances are generally energetic and likeable. They rival rather than supplant the underrated Ari Rasilainen’s more muscular CPO performances, but the fine SACD sound displays the Gothenburg players to advantage. Michael Scott Rohan