Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fine performances of late Atterberg

The Chandos Atterberg Orchestral Works series with Neeme Jarvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony has been one of the most important new recording projects in the past few years. This fifth volume includes two late symphonies, written during and after the 2nd World War. By that time both of the great Scandinavian symphonists were finished: Nielsen was dead and Sibelius silent. Atterberg, once seen as a progressive composer who had to fight against conservative resistance, was now something of a musical reactionary.

The Sinfonia romantica, number 7, has Atterberg's patented sound, reminiscent of Richard Strauss and Hans Pfitzner, though the jolly third movement sounds more to me like Eric Coates and the golden age of British Light Music. The music sounds the same, but it seems much less authentic to me, and more like ersatz Romanticism than the ecstatic 3rd Symphony of 1916. I think Atterberg was more concerned with making a point about how music had moved away from tonality than he was to express any inner urge to compose. It's often lovely, nevertheless. Atterberg's 9th Symphony, the Sinfonia visionaria, was written in the mid-1950s, as a depiction of evil and the apocalypse. Once again musical politics are at the front of Atterberg's mind, and a 12-tone motive becomes his version of diabolus in musica. This is a serious work, with hauntingly beautiful passages, but it all seems just a little bit generic.

Though I'm less than impressed with the music itself than I have been with any of the previous discs in this series, there isn't a single quibble I have with the performances. Anna Larsson and Olle Persson add character and humanity in their parts of the 9th Symphony, and the Gothenburg Symphony Chorus and Orchestra sing and play beautifully. Jarvi makes a better case for the 9th than does Ari Rasilainen on CPO, though the two versions of the 7th are for me a dead heat.

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