Atterberg Symphonies Nos 7 & 8
Atterberg is best known for his genial Sixth Symphony – the Dollar Symphony, so-called as it won a $10,000 prize in the Schubert Centenary Year – and the Suite for violin, viola and strings, a work of striking eloquence and beauty. All his earlier symphonies have been recorded at one time or another, but Nos. 7 and 8 are both new to the catalogue. His symphonies received dismissive treatment in Bo Wallner’s authoritative and comprehensive Var tids musik i Norden (Nordiska Musikforlaget: 1969) and none is discussed – but then neither were Tubin’s.
The Seventh Symphony was composed in 1941-2 and revised in 1972, two years before Atterberg’s death. It was conceived as a protest against the anti-romanticism of the day and, like Prokofiev’s Third or Vaughan Williams’s Fifth, reworks ideas which were first used in an opera, Fanal. When it received its premiere in Frankfurt under Abendroth during the war, there were four movements, but in the late 1960s the composer excised the finale and made a substantial cut in the first movement. The opening idea is very Straussian and none the worse for that; the Andante bears the colours and melancholy of the corresponding movement of the Sixth, and despite a certain naivete, the folk-like third movement forms an effective finale. It is well fashioned even if at times overscored.
The Eighth comes from 1944 and, as in the Fourth, the Sinfonia piccola, folk ideas predominate and are less successful in achieving genuine symphonic coherence. A lot of the music is overblown and there are stretches with more corn than gold. The finale is particularly vacuous and should have shared the same fate as that of No. 7. All the same, there are episodes, especially in the slow movement, that are imaginative and attractive. When Atterberg himself conducted its first performance in Helsinki, he received an approving message from Sibelius no less. If neither work is a masterpiece, the Seventh in particular has a lot going for it and certainly does not deserve the obloquy with which the Swedish press greeted it. The Malmo orchestra under Michail Jurowski are very persuasive advocates and the recording is first-class. Recommended.'