ATTERBERG Symphonies Nos 2 & 8
As has been remarked in these pages before, Atterberg’s early Second Symphony (1911-12) is tricky to balance. Initially a Romantic diptych, with a finale interweaving slow finale and scherzo and rising to a grand climax, it ended in the wrong key (C major, not F), so in 1913 the composer added a third movement in F minor-major, yet still overshadowed by the now middle panel’s peroration.
Where Westerberg relished the glowing orchestration and some of Atterberg’s most appealing folk-based melodies, Rasilainen sought a more unified view, allowing the central climax its due but inflating the final bars as makeweight. By contrast, Järvi ups the tempi considerably, reining in the central climax to throw the expressive weight on to the final bars. No approach works entirely satisfactorily and the symphony remains a problem child but sounds so wonderful that I don’t mind. Järvi’s account seems rushed in places, Rasilainen a touch sedate, so Westerberg may ultimately have judged the tempi most adroitly; but his later rivals possess finer sound, Chandos’s the best of all. Forced to choose, Rasilainen on CPO remains (just) the first choice.
When reviewing Sterling’s premiere CD recording of the Eighth (1944-45), Robert Layton found it contained ‘more corn than gold’ with a ‘vacuous’ finale despite some ‘imaginative and attractive’ episodes. Based on ‘Swedish national melodies’, the Eighth is leaner, more Classical in feel than the Second and substantially more lightweight: a Sinfonietta, rather, that Järvi’s upbeat approach is more suited to. The newcomer outpoints Rasilainen and Michail Jurowski on Sterling, not least for its superb sound. With little to choose between the Chandos and CPO surveys, I look forwards to Järvi’s third instalment.