ATTERBERG Symphonies Nos 1 & 5
This latest volume in Chandos’s Atterberg survey concentrates, as did Vol 2 (3/14), on a contrasting pair of symphonies. The larger is his First (1909-11, revised a couple of years later), in the four expansive movements of which Atterberg’s early style and influences – for instance, Sibelius in the scherzo – are laid out with disarming openness. If the familiar Romantic ardour and late-19th-century harmonic language are in evidence, what is missing, curiously, is the melodic freshness of the Second Symphony (1911-12) – though the main theme of the finale valiantly, if a touch frustratingly, foreshadows the later work.
Nonetheless, the First Symphony is a rewarding listen, especially in this full-blooded account from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and Neeme Järvi has the measure of the composer’s style, not letting the occasional structural awkwardnesses get in the way. Järvi perhaps manages the turbulent tonal shifts of the opening bars with slightly more conviction than Rasilainen on his CPO recording, but thereafter the performances run shoulder to shoulder through the score.
It is much the same in the Fifth, Sinfonia funebre (1917-22), which was revised repeatedly until 1947 when it reached its final form, as given here. The title and dates of this continuous, tripartite design – and indeed the bracing, recapitulatory ‘valse macabre’ climax in the third span – might suggest a reaction to the Great War but, as Stig Jacobsson points out in the booklet, it is rather ‘a symphony of fear and fright’, its motto Wilde’s ‘For each man kills the thing he loves’. The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra bring out its wild moods beautifully, although arguably Rasilainen in Frankfurt catches the nightmarish aspect slightly more vividly.