Before I cracked open the plastic on this CD, the timing for the second symphony smacked me in the face. "Sheesh! Is this right?" Yes, it said symphony two, and, yes, I then pulled my Stig Westerberg and Ari Rasilainen recordings of the Symphony 2 off the shelf and compared. This symphony clocks in at no photo finish: where the third movement of Westerberg and Rasilainen has barely begun, Järvi is stepping out for the third bow (no, it's not a live recording).
But does it work? Does this blitz really work?
But not during the critical moments.
Readers familiar with the second symphony know that the minutes sandwiching the second movement are some of the most glistening, colorful, ecstatic, and climatic moments in the symphonic genre, like Sibelius dining with Respighi. You just don't want the music to end, as it progresses through a series of natural, yet unanticipated, key changes, melodic inversions, and counterpoint. While Rasilainen lets you enjoy every drip of color and the diversity of instrumental tones, Järvi plows through these two sections, so fast, capturing the momentum of the building climax, but barely giving me time to digest the fruit basket, the pallet of Atterberg's unparalleled orchestration. This was after a first movement that equally gave you little time to enjoy the flutes, the bassoons, the clarinets, the cellos and violins, the horns, but just moves you along, quickly, through a melodic 100 meter dash. Where his speed is most effective are moments in the middle sections of the second movement, and the third movement as well, where previous recordings can sometimes languish through lesser moments that bore easily at a second gear speed. Järvi adds pep, swing, and rhythm to these sections, enlivening moments like previous recordings never did.
The essay on the second symphony highlights Atterberg's time writing this work. He slept on the cliffs of the Stockholm archipelago, writing this work. What a beautiful place to conceptualize this work--I made a point to take a trip to the Stockholm archipelago to see first hand what nature landscape inspired this beautiful music. Clear, but dark blue water, accenting the deep blue sky, smooth rounded rocks from pebbles to boulders, fragile coniferous trees, small inlets with quaint villages and small harbors--mostly vacation homes now--, and islands, islands, islands, everywhere you look, small ones, medium ones, but everywhere. Gorgeous.
If only the Rasilainen interpretations on the gushing sections, and Järvi's interpretations on the "down times," could be fused, then we would have a near perfect Symphony 2. As is, I recommend the Rasilainen recording over the Järvi.
For this overly caffeinated symphony two, one of the most outstanding works in the symphonic repetoire in my opinion, I give this recording a four star rating.
It is in the eighth symphony that some of Järvi's interpretive intentions become clear. Why did he, after all, choose to release the two folk symphonies and the jocose sixth in volume one and two, but we must wait for symphonies one, three, and five until later? Järvi recently recorded the symphonic works of both Halvorsen and Svendsen, both of which, if characterized between either Grieg and Sibelius, would fall more in line with the former than the latter. Järvi well interprets Atterberg's folk symphonies, including the eighth, accenting with his characteristic speed the sway, bounce, and pep of folk music. I did not like tapping my toe to Atterberg's symphony two, but that's what impulsive twitches took over. I would have never tapped my toe to Rasilainen's interpretation of the folk symphonies, but Järvi's interpretation brought to life music that Rasilainen let lag perhaps a bit too much. Järvi's rhythm is welcome in the eighth, and he brings to sprite life repetitious runs on the woodwinds and strings that colorfully accent heavy beat. This works well, surprisingly, in the slow second movement, though Rasilainen's passionate interpretation works equally well, just in a different way. Overall, i recommend Järvi's interpretation of the eighth.
What Järvi's interpretations bring to light is the dualism in Atterberg's Scandinavian stylistic canon. On the one hand, some of his works are folksy, are rhythmic, and shine when interpreted like playing Grieg's Symphonic Dances. On the other hand, other works are mystic and naturesque, and shine when interpreted like playing Sibelius' Seventh Symphony. Sometimes, the mix of these elements occupy the same work. The conductor who can sensitively synthesize both of these styles into Atterberg will unlock much of these works' beauty.
We await the rest of this series eagerly.
And hope someday his five operas appear on recordings as well.