Atterberg Symph 1 and 4 Rasilainen cpo9996392

Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2000 and the recording is still available. Ian Lace passed away in 2021.

Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974)
Symphony No 1
Symphony No 4
Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt/Ari Rasilainen
rec. 1998
cpo 999 639-2 [62]

This is a very auspicious start to cpo’s Atterberg Symphonies series: Rasilainen’s readings are spirited, yet glowingly and sensitively shaped.

Time and again, when I review music by Atterberg, I suggest, without the slightest hint of disparagement, how graphic, how like film music it is. In amplification of that cinematic reference, and contrary to the cold austere northern climate where it was composed, this is red-blooded, raw emotional stuff. Atterberg was certainly not afraid of showing his feelings.

The Symphony No 1 in B minor is a very assured work for a 25 year-old. Granted, it betrays certain influences, the most obvious being Brahms, and to a lesser extent Bruckner in the closing sections of the outer movements, but Atterberg’s own inimitable, robust style predominates. The first movement is intense, dramatic and romantic with a powerful forward impetus all of which Rasilainen responds to with commendable vigour. There is a captivating epic sweep to the music, occasionally championing heroically above more dark malicious forces. The second movement is ravishingly beautiful. Beginning in nostalgic and intimate reflections, the music grows in intensity and broadens out to suggest a glorious shining vista. The music’s texture pulsates gently, the colours vibrant, as distant horn calls, and romantic string melodies complete the magical effect of this blissful evocation. In places its voluptuousness is very reminiscent of Korngold – in fact there are the same sighing glissandi. The mercurial scherzo thrills and sparkles. This is ideal music for a Hollywood knights-in-shining-armour epic. There is also material that anticipates Atterberg’s wonderful Symphony No 3 (‘West Coast Pictures’). The substantial final movement is cast as an Adagio – Allegro energico. It begins with two solo violins in sweet dialogue over muted, gently pulsating strings. This material develops into a most attractive heart-felt melody before assertive heroics return and turbulence alternates with proud marching material. One visualises elemental forces being evoked too.

Atterberg’s briefer Symphony No 4 in G minor was composed in 1918. This work is strongly influenced by folk music and although it’s first movement is passionate enough, it is of a more nationalistic fervour. The influence of Sibelius is strong. The Andante second movement is another lovely creation. It is quietly flowing and is something like a Swedish Vaughn Williams in its heady mystical/pastoral atmosphere before Atterberg’s own style asserts itself. As in the First Symphony’s second movement Andante, the shimmering textures are quite beautifully wrought and the echoing horn calls are a masterly touch. A very brief Sibelian scherzo is followed by an exuberant and joyful Rondo.

Ian Lace

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