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VINE VOICEon 20 January 2014
The symphonies of Kurt Atterberg encompass nearly half a century, during which his style changed little: the final, choral, symphony of 1956 uses twelve tone/advanced harmonic techniques to create an unusual sound picture in a composition that is essentially tonal. The main characteristic of Atterberg's symphonies is an emphasis on melody, often using Swedish folk tunes, especially in the 7th and 8th Symphonies. The heart of his music lies in the slow movements, many of an intense and reflective beauty - I would mention here the First, Sixth and Eighth Symphonies in particular. Atterberg adds to this a use of colourful orchestration, with some striking instrumental combinations, and frequent experiments with structure, notably in the Second and Fourth Symphonies.

Of these works, the Sixth has the longest recording history after it won a valuable money prize in the Schubert centenary year (hence its nickname, 'Dollar') . The Third, a 'nature' symphony, is also reasonably familiar through older recordings. This CPO box, featuring three leading German State orchestras that share out the symphonies between them, is an excellent and economical way of getting to know the others as well, and makes a valuable contribution to the library of Scandinavian symphonies. The recording quality is excellent, and the conductor, Ari Rasileinen ( a new name to me) has really brought this marvellous music to life.

The Ninth is the odd man out here, arguably not a symphony at all, yet bound together as a single entity by its text, drawn from Icelandic legend. A notable feature is the use of the harp, placing the baritone soloist is the role of the bard, describing the descent of gods and humanity into a Nordic apocalypse. Both soloists and the choirs are excellent, and bring the text to life.

Of the other symphonies, I have chosen two of the least familiar for some extended comment.

Following soon after the tempestuous First, the Second Symphony in F major makes a sunny, untroubled start that gives place to the confident, noble march (an obvious candidate for a film sound track) that will recur throughout the symphony, gathering tremendous momentum. The second subject is a powerful statement by the full brass section, followed by quiet contemplations from the rest of the orchestra. These are developed through to a final section that affirms the positive character of the main tune in a glorious sonic outburst. The second movement is an experiment in structure, with alternating adagio and presto sections that work up their material. The final adagio, reminiscent of the closing pages of Richard Strauss's 'Death and Transfiguration', sounds as if it is about to end the symphony. But Atterberg has decided to add the conventional finale, in an outcome that (as the notes tell us) failed to satisfy him. Yet the finale arguably succeeds in both further developing the work's main theme, and unifies the symphony as a whole by making references to earlier movements. These are worked up into a satisfying conclusion in a massive life-affirming end that raises the roof.

Some reviewers have dismissed the Eighth Symphony as a sign of a failing inspiration, with too much repetitive material. Writing a symphony basically reliant on folk-tunes will inevitably run this risk, and the first movement is a prime case. After a grippingly intense opening,, the tempo abruptly speeds up and the main tune is presented in a variety of instrumental colours, perhaps outstaying its welcome towards the end in an over-emphatic summing up. The following adagio is so much better, with a hauntingly beautiful cor anglais solo that emphasises the sadness of so many folk-tunes when they are given the garb of a full orchestral treatment. The other main theme, a more cheerful cello gambol, lightens the mood somewhat but it still remains wistful and regretful. The two themes are skilfully combined in a major outburst, with the cor anglais leading other solo winds in the coda. There follows a light-footed scherzo. with perky rhythms. In the con moto finale the main theme of the symphony returns in many forms, bringing the work to a joyful end, though minor third intervals provide a nostalgic atmosphere. Not a symphony out of the top drawer - the Fifth and Seventh are better - but never less than proficient and I find myself increasingly drawn to its melancholic spirit: it is as if the composer is lamenting the departure of a vanishing world. I am heartened by the box set notes which remind us that after hearing it on the radio, Sibelius praised it in a letter to the composer. And that's good enough for me.

To sum up, a cornucopia of symphonic riches that will appeal to anyone who enjoys warm-blooded twentieth century tonal music.
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on 20 February 2012
If you like late Romantic Symphonies with a touch of individuality, these incredibly unknown works are a revelation. Lush and quite complex orchestration, with fine tunes, clever interplay of melody and accompaniments with, at times, breathtakingly emotional climaxes are Atterburg attributes. The orchestral playing of all ensembles is very fine - a tribute to the conductor, and the recordings excellent. Perhaps the Finales of the mid numbered Symphonies don't quite match most of the writing, but do not miss this chance to explore something special and unforgetable.
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on 5 January 2010
I was first drawn to Atterberg's music by a rave review, on ClassicsToday, of his 'Symphonia per Archi' . Several reviewers on that site also waxed lyrical about some of the symphonies, so when they became available as a budget priced box set, I wasted no time in ordering them. And I must say that I was astonished by what I heard. It was some of the most beautiful, accessible, well played and recorded symphonic music I had ever heard. The music brims with glorious melodies, expertly orchestrated for a large complement of instruments (including harps and percussion), flowing irresistibly along on five well filled discs. Although I'm less enamoured of the choral symphony (no. nine), this is purely a matter of personal taste and not indicative of any lack of quality of the music. The virtues of this great symphonic cycle are also extolled on American Amazon. And although Atterberg certainly has his own voice, when you like Mahler, Sibelius, Strauss, Franz Schmidt, Alfven, Stenhammar, Rudi Stephan, Boehe etc. you will certainly like this. Very warmly recommended.

Post script 17-12-2016:
Järvi's Götheborg cycle on Chandos is now complete. Generally, his versions are as well played and recorded in SACD-format (except volume 4, which is a big letdown) as the CPO discs. As is usual with Järvi, the timings are (much) faster, but this is not necessarily to the detriment of the music. If you can afford it (and have room to spare...), get the Järvi too.
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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2007
Atterberg was an interesting man, managing to keep his job at the Swedish Patent Office until well over 80 years of age. His symphonies cover the first 50 years or so of the 20 Century and he is probably most famous for winning the 1928 Schubert Prize of $10,000 for a symphony in the style or manner of Schubert: a celebration of the centenary of his death. The "Dollar Symphony", as it became known, is a wholly typical piece with a wickedly humourous last movement made of up of incompleted fugal material. Symphonies 4 and 8 are redolant of Swedish folk song, number 5 is a "tragic" work, numbers 1 and 2 charming late romantic essays in the genre and number 3 a depiction of the South-West of Sweden. Number 7 was premiered in Germany during WW2 by Abendroth and it uses material from an earlier opera. This symphony, together with 8 and 9 (a mysterious choral work) shows, in my opinion, either a dimming of the inspirational flames or a refusal to develop much out of the early post romantic style of writing. With the exception of Symphony 9 all of the works are tuneful and well crafted.

Atterberg's attitude to his writing seems to have been to value what gave him pleasure to write. This pleasure principle seems to me to give the key to understanding these fairly easy to assimulate works: he was not, for example, driven by the need to compose as was,the much greater English composer Arnold Bax. In trying to "place" him one could say that whilst his music is more interesting than Glazunov it shares the same conservative milleau. If this sounds like damning with faint praise be sure that the discs are worth having and that Atterberg is an interesting voice in his own right. The production values and recording and playing on the discs is of the hightest quality. Recommended.
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on 20 January 2012
Not having heard Atterberg's music before I wasn't sure what to expect, but this set is nothing short of a revelation. The symphonies are in the late-romantic mould, with strong melodies and large bold sweeping gestures. They really are a delight and I would urge anyone with an interest in twentieth-century symphonic music to investigate this box. The performances and recordings are excellent, and the presentation is also worthy of a five-star recommendation. Buy, listen, enjoy. I think you may find you're pleasantly surprised - I most certainly was.
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on 11 August 2014
i did not know some of the music, but found it all enchanting
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on 24 May 2012
If you want the Atterberg symphonies, you will not regret buying these CDs. But even as a Scandinavian I have to admit that symphonies 7 and 8, especially no 8, are almost unbearably monothematic and repetitious. A small number of folksong-like melodic fragments are repeated endlessly with scant variation, which for me does not work as a symphony. Only the finales of early Dvorak symphonies can compete in sheer insistent monotony.
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on 17 September 2016
Very good.
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