ATTERBERG Symphonies Nos 7 & 9
After the success/notoriety of his Sixth Symphony in 1928, only in 1941 42 did Atterberg return to the form. Much had changed: a global depression, a world war, the rise of the avant-garde – but not his style. The Seventh Symphony (rev 1972) is an ‘opera-symphony’, constructed from themes from the opera Fanal, set during the Peasants’ War in 1525 like Mathis der Maler, but closer to Prokofiev’s Third or Vaughan Williams’s Fifth than the Hindemith or Henze’s Fourth (from King Stag). It was originally in four movements, but Atterberg detached the Vittorioso finale as a separate piece (recorded on Vol 4, 4/16) in the 1960s. This left an effective and attractive tripartite design, ‘Drammatico’ – ‘Semplice’ – ‘Feroce’, but, even in Järvi’s vivid and vibrant account, it does not advance on the celebrated Dollar Symphony, No 6.
Atterberg remained a lifelong Romantic. In the mid-1950s he became marginalised as the music of the younger generation and Second Viennese School made ground. For his Ninth and final symphony, Atterberg turned to the apocalyptic Icelandic tale, the Völuspá, and a much earlier, set-aside project for a cantata. His only choral symphony, the Sinfonia visionaria (1955 56) is the summa summarum of his career: a beautifully crafted cantata-symphony, the product of a lifetime’s experience. Never mind that it is deeply conservative, that he – as Hindemith was doing at the same time – wrily pilloried dodecaphony in its representation of evil: it is an utterance of subtlety and profundity.
Järvi and his Gothenburg forces produce exemplary performances, stronger in interpretative outline than their rivals and much more vividly recorded. Listen no further than the opening chord of No 9 to hear the depth of Chandos’s sound and Torbjörn Samuelsson’s superb engineering. Recommended.