13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
David Anthony Hollingsworth
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Atterberg's Second Symphony of (1911-1913) is to my mind a masterpiece, even though it was a problematic work after its December 12th, 1912 Göteborg premiere conducted by the composer himself. This symphony was originally conceived as a two-movement work, with the second movement that alternates between slow and fast tempi before reaching its climax that ends it grandiosely. Anything thereafter would be superfluous. So the composer thought, understandably. But the symphony's bipartite design was unconventional at that time and the composer was pressed upon to add the finale. And even though the design remains scarcely traditional in the Teutonic vein (or Russian for that matter, even though the Russians were rather liberal when it came to sonata form), the melodic appeal remains very high indeed with the scoring that is glorious and imaginative throughout.
And like I said, this work is a masterpiece. It starts off with such an euphonious sense of nobility and freshness announced by the horn, with the ensuing development that is convincingly majestic and epic rather Straussian in vein. But Atterberg knew his Glazunov too, and give heed to the coda of that first movement that evokes the Russian's ever so familiar rhetoric. Turn to the thematically inventive second movement though and you'll hear the rather ingenious manipulative alternation between passages that are full of sublimity, dignity, and grace and those that are sweeping and vivid. The great climax (Brucknerian in scope) that concludes the movement is superlative as well as grand and I can see why the composer thought of it as the fitting ending of the symphony. But I'm personally glad that he went further, for the rather cinematic finale is quite captivating also, and although the ideas threaten to run thin a bit, Atterberg use of the materials from the previous movements give the finale a more sense of purpose and chemistry. But notice again the Glazunovian-type rhetoric at, say 2'02"-ff and at the coda. Sweeping stuff throughout and like I said in my March 9, 2002 review of the work (re-issued by the Swedish Society CD), the listening experience remains memorable. With this recording though, my affection towards this work continues to grow stronger.
Atterberg's Fifth Symphony (1917-1922) "Sinfonia Funebre" is very much in a different league, however. Written during the same period as Nielsen's Fifth, Bax's First, & Myaskovsky's Sixth, it shares with them the feelings of anguish and condemnation due to the upheavals that occupied much of the world during that time. As with the other aforementioned symphonies, Atterberg's is very personal indeed, if without much of an universal appeal as in Nielsen's masterpiece. Its utterance is, predictably enough (though its earnestness is not dubious), bleak, defiant, mournful, and in the end contemplative. The gripping lento movement is very much funereal in temperament, saturated with the mournfulness that becomes overwhelming by 7'50' -ff. The finale, though, is a tougher nut to crack. Its stern beginning evokes that of the first movement before venturing off in its deviant, heroic discourse (which is interrupted periodically by the somberness that colors the second movement - try 4'09"). The `danse macabre' waltz, which appears in the recapitulation (at 9'03") is strikingly mischievous. But Atterberg had no intention in giving the work an uplifting conclusion as Nielsen & Bax did in their respective symphonies. Instead, this moving, powerful piece ends with an uneasy elegy, offering no signs of mankind rebounding from the horrors of war. It is striking how much that ending serves as a precursor to the composer's Ninth Symphony (1956), a work with an apocalyptic view of the world.
Ari Rasilainen draws both sympathetic and forceful performances from the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt and his approach is of real panache. And while I would not replace my Swedish Society CD of Atterberg's Second Symphony and the Third Suite for strings, viola, and violin (of real beauty and eloquence) rendered wonderfully & idiomatically by Stig Westerberg and the Swedish Radio Symphony, this CD is a must get. As usual, the booklet notes and recording are first class and exemplary. I await, with some excitement, the next installments!