Neeme Järvi / Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Atterberg: Orchestral Works, Vol. 5

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The Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg won a $10,000 prize in 1928 for his Symphony No. 6 from the U.S. Columbia label in a heavily publicized competition featuring top conductors such as Toscanini. After that, like Sibelius, he seemed to hit a creative wall, at least in regard to orchestral music, but instead of falling silent like Sibelius, he continued to write in what by the 1940s had become rather conservative Romantic idioms. Conductor Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra have recorded a complete Atterberg symphony cycle, concluding here and beautifully recorded by Chandos in the orchestra's own hall. The Symphony No. 7, Op. 45, bears the subtitle "Sinfonia romantica," given as a rebuke to critics who complained the work was old-fashioned. Based partly on themes from an earlier opera, Fanal, the three-movement work, cut down from four by the composer, has an attractively (small-r) romantic slow movement and indeed brings to mind Dvorák more than any other composer; the influence of Sibelius and the other 20th century symphonists is felt more in the orchestration than in the tonal material. Atterberg's Symphony No. 9, Op. 54 ("Sinfonia visionaria"), appeared in 1956. It is a single-movement, cantata-like choral work, with two soloists and a text based on Scandinavian (specifically, Icelandic) mythology depicting the origins of evil and its ultimate triumph in the world's destruction. At this point Atterberg turned to 12-tone music -- but only for the depiction of evil itself. Apparently the elderly Sibelius admired the work, but despite its seemingly newfound relevance it may be a tough slog even for an audience primed for the revival of neo-Romantic works. The best things here are the performances, for the music is right in Järvi's wheelhouse; he gets the absolute best out of the Gothenburgers, with arresting work from the instrumental soloists throughout the Symphony No. 7. Recommended for enthusiasts of the Scandinavian symphony.

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