This recording has been in Phono-Suecia's lists for upwards
of twenty years; at first as a vinyl disc and since 1986 as a compact
disc. The CD format has been kind to Pettersson permitting most of his
single movement symphonies a single uninterrupted listening experience.
This has been the upside. The downside is that the medium continues
to deny us transfers of certain pioneering LPs. The lacunae are Comissiona's
2LP version of the Ninth Symphony (Philips), the same conductor's DG
(or Polar) LP of the Eighth (Baltimore SO) and Okko Kamu's Norrkopping
SO version of the Sixth on CBS.
What to say about the Fourteenth Symphony? It is, as
you can see, a work lasting over three quarters of an hour. It was written
the year after the Second Violin Concerto (also on Phono-Suecia) and
the year before the Sixteenth Symphony (the one with a solo part for
saxophone). In the same year Pettersson also wrote the Fifteenth Symphony.
1978 was the twenty-fifth year in which he suffered crippling and painful
arthritic illness. From the first instant you are left with no doubts
that this is a serious work - no divertimento in symphonic garb. It
protests and laments, screeches and bellows, batters and sings. Tension
rises and is sustained almost unbearably and then slackened off into
great valleys of Bach-like arioso passages. I am not sure how well it
all coheres and the ending strikes me as suspect. However there are
some extraordinarily excoriating writing along the way. The impressions
left are of an epic painting unfolding in aural colours. There is nothing
belligerently atonal about the work but racking tortured conflict leaves
its mark on the tonality. The recording lucidly exposes the detail which
is critical in a work that would otherwise retreat into a foggy maelstrom.
Among the very late works it is the one that speaks
with superior conviction. Though ending in a far less inspired way it
deserves to stand in the magisterial company of the Seventh Symphony.
The competition comes in the form of CPO's recording
of the 1988 German premiere by the Berlin Radio SO conducted by Johan
M Arnell (CPO 999 191-2). The Comissiona is in DDD and the Arnell, surprisingly,
in ADD. The two recordings are pretty equally matched from an interpretative
point of view with a shade more character and colouring from Arnell.
On the debit side the CPO taping, though very vivid, is also prone to