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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Allan PETTERSSON (1911-80)
Symphony No. 7 (1968)
Symphony No. 16* (1979)
Stockholm PO/Antal Dorati
Recorded Stockholm 18-20 Sept 1969
Frederick L Hemke (saxophone) *
Stockholm PO/Yuri Ahronovitch *
Recorded Stockholm, 17-18 Oct 1984
SWEDISH SOCIETY DISCOFIL SCD 1002 [62.45]

As the messages to this site’s Bulletin Board demonstrate Pettersson continues to provoke strong feelings. However one chooses to describe him, adjectivally speaking – and we all know the kind of things that are said of him – listening to a Pettersson Symphony at his greatest is one of the most charged, moving and shaking experiences in late twentieth century music. And of all the works of his that I know it is the Seventh – in this by now classic performance – that shakes me the most.

Over the course of its forty-minute span we follow a symphonic argument of development and rare drama and one that reveals itself to be profoundly human in its breadth. Listening to it again for review purposes and writing down scraps of notes one can see perhaps more clearly that however anguished the language the structure is firm. From the static opening with those sepulchral brass to the sense of redirection of energy that is soon generated we are in the grip of a symphonist of stature. The insistence of the horn layers from 6’00 and the obsessively frantic drum tattoos and searing violins open out into a kind of March-Chorale before the inevitable symphonic catastrophe hits. The lyrical outburst in response to this assault (just hear how the violins try to play through the cataclysm) leads to the strings playing higher and higher as if the very fiddles themselves are striving for oxygen. It is the consolation of the winds that ushers in the beautiful, aching string cantilena from 25’00 or thereabouts, moments of the most extraordinary hope and refuge, real and human and of terrible beauty. Inevitably the line cannot withstand the renewed attacks but this time, in time, the fragments of orchestral sound and colour – flute solos, striding bass pizzicati, wandering strings – lead to a long-breathed sense of almost-resolution. Once again the strings soar high up, the lower strings repeat themselves and a brass figure ends it all. In print it seems schematic; in practice it is astonishing, a threnody of compelling beauty and harrowing fissures.

Its companion, the Sixteenth, was his last completed Symphony and commissioned by the saxophonist here, Frederick L Hemke. Opening with a jagged and short series of motifs and stern drum tattoos the rather - and appropriately – sour-sounding saxophone’s independence of line seems an act of heroism given the mayhem of motion that buffets and surrounds it. Around 7.00 the orchestral tumult subsides and we can hear the high winds, which shepherd the solo instrumentalist through the next stages until a magical withdrawal of tone at 9.20 – beautiful and ruminative. From 11.50 there is a dramatic accelerando for the saxophone, with a hint of menace, followed by an uneasy-sounding cantilena. In its concision and abrupt disjunctions this is a work that fights and refuses to yield or to go gentle into that good night.

The notes reprint those for the relevant LP issues of these two symphonies. If you try anything of Pettersson’s let it be this Seventh.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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