Allan PETTERSSON (1911-1980)

Symphony no.6 (1963-66) [59:50]
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden, January 2012.
BIS-SACD-1980 [59:50] 

True connoisseurs know that one of the finest ways to spend thirty or sixty minutes is listening to an excellent recording of a magnificent symphony. They will also know that some of the twentieth century's greatest symphonists have been Scandinavian - Holmboe, Langgaard, Aho, Sæverud, Rosenberg, Nørgård, Englund, Rautavaara, Sallinen, Segerstam, to name at random some very different composers often overshadowed by Sibelius. Prominent in that list must stand the name of Swede Allan Pettersson - any arguments to the contrary are truly obliterated by this recording, the latest volume in BIS's long-winded but compelling series dedicated to this relatively unsung master of the genre. 

CPO have already been here and long since left sporting their "First Pettersson Complete Symphonies" t-shirts (see review), yet BIS held their own ace with the previous volume's premiere recording of the composer's unfinished First Symphony, the extensive extant bits and pieces assembled into a more-than-adequate performing edition by Christian Lindberg (see review). 

Some of the earlier volumes from both BIS and CPO are compromised to a degree by less than ideal audio engineering, but sound quality on BIS's latest two has been of the finest - the crystal clarity of this latest 'Super Audio' recording is almost matched by the standard stereo of the last. 

At any rate, by the time Pettersson reached his Sixth Symphony his imagination had attained a level of ideational and architectural supremacy that many can only dream of. Written typically as a single movement, spanning more than two thousand bars of incredible colour and detail, the Sixth is shorter only than the 70-odd-minute Thirteenth and the 75-minute Ninth in terms of gigantism, but Pettersson never forgets his audience: propelled constantly onwards by the sheer force of musical argument and expression - always fundamentally tonal too - the listener's mind is unable to wander. Moreover, though Pettersson's severe arthritis sentenced him to a painful, almost wretched life, his music does not resort to morbidity or miserabilism. On the other hand, the tone is almost always expansively serious-minded, graphically introspective, post-apocalyptically serene: the symphonies are eerily lifelike in their restriction of genuinely joyous moments. The final ten minutes of the Sixth are devastatingly soulful. This is one of the twentieth century's greatest symphonic works. 

The accompanying quadrilingual booklet has a shortish but illuminating essay by Michael Kube. With a terrific performance under Lindberg by the astonishingly talented Norrköping Symphony Orchestra - their second of the year too! (see review) - this is one of the recordings of the year.  


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The always fundamentally tonal music is propelled constantly onwards by the sheer force of argument and expression … the listener's mind is unable to wander. 

See also review of the CD by Rob Barnett and the 24/96 download by Dan Morgan