Atterberg symphonies romantic and visionary

The fifth and final installment of Neeme Järvi’s traversal of Kurt Atterberg symphonies is out. And it presents two works that stand in stark contrast. Atterberg’s 1942 “Sinfonia romantica,” is sunny, lyrical, and light-hearted, while the “Sinfonia visionaria” is a thickly-textured study of Nordic gloom.

Atterberg’s Symphony No. 7 was written in reaction to what he saw as an anti-romantic trend in music. The “Sinfonia romantica” is unabashedly romantic, with richly-voiced harmonies and beautiful melodies that occasionally border on sweetness.

The 1942 premier was not well-received, and afterwards, Atterberg dropped the final movement. I have to admit the three-movement version Järvi presents works just fine. The new last movement brings the symphony to a rollicking close, and reminds me of the last movement of Mendelssohn’s “Italian Symphony.”

Symphony No. 9, the “Sinfonia visionaira” couldn’t be more different. This 1955 work is based on the prophecies of the Völva, a 10th-century Icelandic text. In it, the Völva, or seer, answers the questions of the Bard (Odin in disguise), revealing the future, and the end of the gods. Yes, she’s talking about Gotterdammerung.

Atterberg’s music is highly chromatic, and in some places dodecaphonic, although still leaning heavily towards tonality. This is a choral symphony, with two soloists representing the Bard and the Seer in conversation. To me, the structure and the sound more resembled that of an extended opera scene. It’s a moving work, but one that offers little relief from its overall darkness.

Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony deliver committed performances. If you have an opportunity, listen to this played back on an SACD player as opposed to a downloaded file (even a high-resolution one). There are some nuances in Atterberg’s orchestrations that become more evident with SACD playback.

A great finale to an excellent series.

Kurt Atterberg: Orchestral Works, Volume 5 
Symphony No. 7, Op. 45 “Sinfonia romantica” 
Symphony No. 9, Op. 54 “Sinfonia visionaria” 
Gothenburg Symphony Chorus and Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, conductor 
Anna Larsson: mezzo-soprano; Olle Persson, baritone 
Chandos CHSA 5166 SACD

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