Monday, July 18, 2016

Two Swedish Symphonies

Kurt Atterberg                              Gösta Nystroem
This week I present two symphonies from Sweden, one of which is probably the most famous to come from that land, while the other is not as well known, perhaps, but should be. The former, of course, is Kurt Atterberg's notorious "Dollar" Symphony, so called because it was the prize-winning entry in Columbia's Schubert Centennial contest of 1928 (with some of the $10,000 that he won, the 41-year-old composer bought his first automobile, a Model A Ford). Much nonsense was written about this work at the time, for it was believed that Atterberg (1887-1974) had plagiarized much of the symphony's material. What remains at this 88-year distance is a fresh, enjoyable, fun three-movement symphony that seems to fully justify its prize. One of the conditions of this prize was that Columbia recorded the piece (with Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic), which is natural enough, given that they sponsored the contest. Almost unheard of, for a new work at that time, was for it to receive a second recording from a different company, under the direction of the composer:

Atterberg: Symphony No. 6 in C Major, Op. 31
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Atterberg
Recorded October, 1928
Deutsche Grammophon 95193 through 95195, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.00 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.73 MB)

The other Swedish symphony here is the second of six composed by Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966), who spent much time in Paris during the 1920s. His music inhabits a much more modern-sounding world than Atterberg's (which is firmly rooted in the 19th century); it is tonal but dissonant (I'm strongly reminded of Frank Martin). The very fine Sinfonia Espressiva, composed in 1935, is in four movements: a long elegiac opening movement scored for strings and timpani is followed by a scherzo, passacaglia (on a Swedish folk song) and fugue, each subsequent movement adding more instruments to the scoring. Tor Mann, the conductor on this recording, gave the work's first performance in 1937:

Gösta Nystroem: Sinfonia Espressiva (1935)
Tor Mann conducting the Stockholm Concerts Association Orchestra
Recorded June 29, 30 and July 1, 1950
HMV DBS 11030 and DB 11031 through DB 11033, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 72.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.72 MB)


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  2. Quite astonishing, thank you. I have a copy of the Atterberg/Berlin performance, copied onto CD from an LP transfer (I think-my memory of its provenance is foggy), but I am greatly looking forward to hearing it transferred from the original shellac. I have never heard Tor Mann's recording of the Nystroem, and I greatly look forward to that as well.

  3. Thank you again Bryan! I've never got to know the Atterberg, so this is a good moment. According to Mike Gray's 'A Classical Discography', it was recorded in October 1928. The Nystroem sounds very intriguing! All the best, Nick

    1. Thanks, Nick - stupid me, I didn't even think to consult Mr. Gray for the Atterberg, though I did for the Nystroem! Hope you enjoy both...

  4. Bryon,
    Great offerings here. I agree with your comments about Atterberg and this symphony. The symphony has been often criticized, because it was awarded first prize in 1928 for an international competition honoring the centenary of the death of Franz Schubert, when posterity has judged a few other pieces entered to have been greater works. That may be so, but still this is a very fine symphony, and it is nice to hear a recording from when the work was first written. While this performance may be slightly lacking in bringing out the pathos of the middle movement, I was very impressed with the composer’s way with the final movement. I always felt that the weakness in this symphony was a finale that was of much lower quality than the preceding two movements. However, in this recording Atterberg plays this movement at a far faster clip than in modern recordings by Ari Rasilainen or Neemi Jarvi (which are both excellent recordings, nonetheless). The faster pace just allows the final movement to fall into place, and stand as a fitting finale.
    The 1950 performance of Gösta Nystroem’s Sinfonia Espressiva by Tor Mann is a terrific performance of a terrific symphony. I have known this Symphony from Paavo Jarvi’s Bis recording, which is quite good, but this performance provides a more persuasive case for this work. Thank you for providing these recordings and bring these compelling performances to our attention.

  5. Thanks a million Bryan for both posts. Two major Scandinavian composers indeed. From memory, Toscanini recorded the Atterberg. Nystroem is a captivating composer and speaks more to me. Please upload more of him if you have......

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