ATTERBERG: Symphony No. 7, Op. 45. Symphony No. 8, Op. 48.
In Y2K, writing about CPO's release of the First and Fourth Symphonies of Kurt Atterberg (pronounced "Ah-ter-berry"), I noted that he had a particular talent for symphonic scherzos, yet also a lyrical vein that yielded memorable music in...slow movements. Of all the Swedish composers of his generation, I have found Atterberg the most stimulating -- a musician who lacked only the gift of indelible melody. But everything else was there, and these enlivening performance by a Finnish conductor (yet another of Jorma Panula's gifted pupils at the Helsinki Academy) plus one of Germany's best regional radio orchestras [at Frankfurt] do him honor as well as justice. Again, CPO's sound is hall-ambient and wonderfully lucid, even in loud tutti passages. In sum, recommended for anyone sick to death of Beethoven and Brahms cycles in our deplorably dumbed-down time.
Now, to that disc and a second one by Ari Rasiliainen of Symphonies 3 and 6 with the Hannover Radio Philharmonic, CPO adds No. 7 (Sinfonia romantica) and No. 8, composed in 1942 and 1944, respectively. Hermann Abendroth introduced No. 7 at Frankfurt on February 14, 1943 (Sweden, remember, was neutral in World War Two), but Copenhagen critics a few weeks later hated it ("I believe that I was never scolded as much"). Still smarting 26 years later, Atterberg lopped off the fourth-movement, and let it end with a Feroce rondo-scherzo. Although the last movement survives in the Swedish Radio’s music library, Raisilainen conducts the revision. Notes do not clarify, however, whether he took an 80-bar cut in the flat-out gorgeous slow movement that Atterberg also made in 1969. At 11'23", however, it is unlikely. In No. 7 he reworked symphonic materials from an opera, Fanal, composed in 1929-32 -- as Prokofiev derived his Third Symphony from The Fiery Angel, Hindemith his Mathis der Maler and Harmonie der Welt Symphonies from same-named operas, and Vaughan Williams his Fifth from The Pilgrim's Progess. No. 7, which begins with a first movement marked Drammatico, is overall a unity and often beautiful. In a more adventurous age than now, it would find welcome in concert halls worldwide.
The four-movement Eighth is based on Swedish folk materials, which bring Hugo Alfven's music to mind without imitating or borrowing from it. Following the premiere at Helsinki on February 9, 1945, Atterberg received the following telegram: "Thanks for your wonderful, perfect symphony. With best wishes, Jean Sibelius" (who heard a broadcast). Like the Seventh, it has a ravishing slow movement, is unashamed to be tonal in an era of harmonic anarchy, and boasts superb craftmanship. Only the coda of the finale lacks a final dollop of brio. Lobby your local conductor; Atterberg's Eighth Symphony deserves showcasing. Or, since your local conductor will likely be too busy to learn it, lobby the executive director to engage Ari Raisilainen as a guest conductor. Working with the SWR Radio Orchestra of Stuttgart, he achieves the same painstaking yet rhapsodic performances we've heard previously from the Radio Orchestras of Frankfurt and Hannover.
This is the best so far in a series that promises Symphonies 2, 5 and 9 (Sinfonia visionaria for soloists, chorus and orchestra) before CPO and Raisilainen move on to their next project.
R.D. (Aug. 2001)