Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) was born in Gothenburg to a father who was an engineer and a mother who was the daughter of a famous opera singer. This encapsulates the dual nature of the composer himself who, while already studying electrical engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology, enrolled at the Royal College of Music, Stockholm.
He studied composition and orchestration under the composer Andreas Hallén (1846-1925), later being awarded his engineering diploma as well as a State Music Fellowship. Although continuing to compose and conduct, Atterberg accepted a post at the Swedish Patent and Registration Office, going on to become a head of department working there until his retirement in 1968. In 1918 he co-founded the Society of Swedish Composers alongside other prominent composers such as Ture Rangström (1884-1947), Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) and Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960). Six years later he was elected president of the society, maintaining the position until 1947. At a similar time, he became president of the Svenska Tonsättares Internationella Musikbyrå, which he also helped to found. Other jobs taken on by Atterberg included his work as a music critic for the Stockholms Tidningen and as secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
In addition to five operas and two ballets he wrote nine symphonies, numerous other orchestral works, chamber and instrumental music, vocal works, music for the theatre and six concerted works.
CPO www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/home have already made many recordings of Atterberg’s music including all nine of his symphonies and his Piano Concerto and Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra. Now from CPO comes a new release featuring Atterberg’s Cello Concerto and Horn Concerto with the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover www.ndr.de/orchester_chor/radiophilharmonie/Die-NDR-Radiophilharmonie,rphindex101.html conducted by Ari Rasilainen www.rbartists.at/de/dirigenten_dtl.php?id=197 who has already brought us fine recordings of the symphonies. He is joined here by cellist, Nikolai Schneider www.ndr.de/orchester_chor/radiophilharmonie/Nikolai-Schneider,schneiderspecht106.html and horn player Johannes-Theodor Wiemes www.ndr.de/orchester_chor/radiophilharmonie/Johannes-Theodor-Wiemes,theowiemes101.html
Atterberg played the cello from his childhood and, whilst it was Hans Bottermund who gave the first performance of the Cello Concerto in C Minor, Op. 21 (1917-22) at the Berlin Singakadamie in 1923, it was the composer who gave the Swedish premiere in Norrköping the following year.
The Andante cantabile - Allegro brings a hushed opening for orchestra out of which the cello reveals a fine melody. The orchestra gently rises to follow the increasingly passionate cello that always returns to its gentle roots. There are some especially lovely sounds as the horns, then woodwind, weave the theme. Timpani herald the Allegro as the cello rejoins to lead forward in this faster flowing section that again rises to moments of passion. There are moments where perhaps Atterberg’s inspiration briefly fails but soon the music rises in drama for one of the composer’s finest soaring passages, brilliantly orchestrated. The cello returns bringing a gentler, rather melancholy passage before weaving some lovely moments against a fine orchestral backdrop. Indeed there are many fine poetic moments sensitively revealed by cellist Nikolai Schneider, as well as fast and furious passages with plenty of moments for the soloist to show his technique before leading straight into the second movement.
The soloist weaves a plaintive theme over a hushed orchestra, the haunting opening of the Adagio with Schneider bringing some exquisite playing, slowly developing the restrained theme over a subtly conceived orchestral layer, the lower orchestral strings providing a gentle, rapidly rising and falling decorative motif. This cellist brings some beautifully rich lower textures as the movement progresses before moving to some very high textures. The orchestra leads to a heart rending passage for cello and orchestra, through the most lovely passages until rising up high for the hushed coda.
The orchestra and cello lead off in a lightly sprung rhythmic Allegro before the orchestra rises up only to fall back as the cello introduces a slow meditative cadenza to which the timpani eventually join quietly. The orchestra brings a dynamic section to which the cello joins, bringing a tremendous flow, so typically Atterberg. Schneider weaves some fine passages with moments of great beauty. There is a lovely little woodwind motif before the music gathers itself to rise up and speed to the coda.
The Cello Concerto may lack overall cohesion but for the many beauties it holds I will return to this concerto often. Nikolai Schneider and the NDR Phil under Rasilainen show their affinity with this music.
Horn Concerto in A Major, Op. 28 (1926) was written for the unusual orchestral combination of strings, piano and percussion. It was premiered in 1927 by the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adolf Wiklund with the soloist Axel Malm for whom it was written.
The strings bring a light shimmering opening to the Allegro patetico before the horn enters in a bright and uplifting theme. Soloist, Johannes-Theodor Wiemes bringing a fine textured tone with the strings of the NDR Radiophilharmonie revealing the many typically Atterberg traits. The music quietens for an orchestral passage that gently flows ahead pointed up by piano. The horn re-joins and livens a little before returning to a gentler pace with some lovely orchestral details. Soon there is a slow, quiet, flowing passage for horn and orchestra with the piano continuing to point up the music. Eventually the opening motif returns for the horn with the orchestra weaving some fine lines before reaching the coda.
The Adagio opens quietly in the orchestra but soon the horn joins bringing the real theme. The piano adds broad phrases as the music continues with a sense of nostalgia pervading in this inspired movement. The music flows, with the often limpid piano motif before the horn joins in this remarkably individual passage. There are many varied orchestral ideas over which the horn brings its lovely theme until the gentle coda arrives.
Piano, percussion and orchestra lead off in the lively bounding Allegro molto with the horn soon joining in this buoyant forward moving theme. Soon the piano leads the orchestra in a riotously rhythmic theme to which the horn joins. The music rises through more dynamic passages until suddenly rushing forward with some terrific playing from Wiemes before slowing for the coda.
This is a terrific horn concerto that receives a very fine performance from Johannes-Theodor Wiemes and the strings, percussion and piano of the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover. This distinctive horn concerto deserves a place in the repertoire.
Ari Rasilainen and his team are well recorded at the Großer Sendesaal, NDR Hannover and there are informative booklet notes.