ATTERBERG:  Symphony No. 2 in F, Op. 6.  Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 20
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orch/Ari Rasilainen, cond.
cpo 999 565 (F) (DDD) TT:  75:34
With this release, the Finnish conductor Ari Rasilainen has now recorded eight of Swedish Kurt Atterberg's nine symphonies—the last one requiring vocal soloists and chorus, presumably (and hopefully) to come from cpo. Like Nos.1 and 4 (REVIEW), Nos. 2 and 5 are played by the Frankfurt Radio-Symphony Orchestra with gusto as well as great finesse, which is not to downgrade the Radio Orchestras of Hannover in Nos. 3 and 6, or Stuttgart in Nos. 7 and 8. The recording is full-blooded as well as spacious, belying its origin in a radio-network's concert hall. And the music, as we've heard on three previous discs, is Scandinavian in feeling yet characterful, although some of No. 2 reminds one of his senior contemporary, Hugo Alfvn (it is, after all, only Op. 6 in Atterberg's canon). But No. 2 is markedly more assured about what and how he wanted to say than we heard in No. 1.

No. 5, subtitled Sinfonia funebre, is a shorter work by 6-1/2 minutes, written in 1922 (a decade later than No. 2), but its authority and compositional technique are firmly in place and powerfully expressive. Like the Second Symphony, the Fifth is in three movements that move toward finely judged climaxes, although its somber character is lightened by a waltz before a quietly disturbing soft ending. Atterberg's vocabulary was powerfully rhythmic and tonal, alternatingly chromatic and diatonic, fitting for its time and place - comparable, interestingly, to symphonic development in Great Britain. If Sweden has never produced a "national" composer in the sense of the U.K.'s Elgar (followed by Vaughan Williams), Carl Nielsen in Denmark, Grieg in Norway, or Sibelius overwhelmingly in Finland, Atterberg stands shoulder to shoulder with Alfvn, ahead I'd say of their esteemed elder colleague, Wilhelm Stenhammar.

In sum, another recommended issue of heartfelt music by a composer of more than regional interest, too little known on this side of the Atlantic. Avant-gardistes need not apply, but the rest of you are urged to listen and, I daresay, be moved. Bravi to all: conductor, orchestra, the Hessischer Rundfunk production team (producer Hans Bernhard Btzing and engineer Rüdiger Orth), and of course cpo.

R.D. (February 2003)