All being well, five years from now we will have two
commercially recorded sets of the symphonies of Swedish composer Allan Pettersson (pronounced something like pay-ter-shon
). CPO were early on the scene with symphonies 2-16 under the batons of Alun Francis, Manfred Trojahn, Thomas Sanderling, Johan Arnell, Peter Ruzicka, Gerd Albrecht and Manfred Honeck. These were recorded between 1984 and 2004. They’re very good and each symphony can be had either singly or in a slip-cased set reviewed here
When the BIS Pettersson Edition is finished it will surpass the CPO by offering what remains of the Seventeenth Symphony and composer-conductor, Christian Lindberg’s completion of the First Symphony. It will also include three Swedish television documentaries about Pettersson, complete with English subtitles. Earlier this year, the Norrköping orchestra and Bis, with long-breathed thoroughness and no little inspiration, announced, against fairly specific dates, the intention to issue the full cycle. The project plan is set out below and a film of the related press conference can be viewed here
With the present CD, BIS reach the most forbidding of the symphonies in terms of duration and toughness. This work plays for about 70 minutes and is in a single uncompromising movement. It was written in 1970 as his severe rheumatoid arthritis took an unforgiving grip. By the end of the year he was confined to bed and then remained in hospital for nine months. Given the chronic pain the composer’s illness inflicted during his last two decades it is surprising that he stayed faithful to the symphony and to epic-duration movements. You might perhaps have expected a mosaic of shorter movements such as those favoured at times by Alan Hovhaness and Rodion Shchedrin. No such thing.
A tragic urgency suffuses repeated cells and note groups which seem to rise like spirals of smoke. There is teeth-gritted determination about this writing and absolutely no surface glamour. Towards end of track 1 the urgency is whipped up. Track 2 takes us to yet more rolling and grumbling note cells, recalling a similar formula from the Seventh Symphony. Reminiscences of that work return at track 4, 3:55. The tension created perhaps feels like a heart attack about to happen but relieved by little consolatory figures for the violins. Those spirals return in track 3, unassertive in themselves but potent when played in counterpoint with Pettersson’s long winding violin melodies. Track 4 unwinds a long-breathed melody - Pettersson makes a speciality of these - but with trailing lianas of woodwind and percussion underpinning. A dense, angst-ridden urgency rears up with wildly fractured trumpet fanfares. In track 6 we again encounter grumbling and stuttering cell units familiar from Pettersson’s Seventh but here they meet the wraith of the habañera
. Those patterns are redolent of the Fate motif from Beethoven’s Fifth but here impelled and accented by little accelerations and decelerations. It’s all quite intricate. Gauntly blooming French horns contribute to a glorious meld of groaning magnificence and blooming decay as if falling into a white hot crucible of molten alloy. In track 8 the pecking of violins ripples away amid upward-clawing waves of violence. A long-breathed mellow melody appears, sumptuous yet not glamorous. It serves a purpose valedictory and healing similar to that of the related high whistling melody in the finale of the Seventh Symphony, the work that made his local and international reputation.
As will be obvious this is not a recording premiere. Pettersson’s Ninth was first recorded by Swedish Philips in Göteborg, Sweden on 8-10 June 1977 with the artists who premiered the work: the Göteborgs Symfoniker conducted by Sergiu Comissiona. That version runs to well over 80 minutes against the composer’s own indications in the score of 65-70 minutes. When first issued it was inevitably spread across two gatefold-sleeved LPs (6767 951). Hearing it again now after all these years in a private transfer by Haydn House
confirms the bloom and unrelenting power of that pioneering original. There it is in harness with Okko Kamu’s version of the more compact Sixth.
No doubt the Comissiona Ninth is also to be had for download at various classical music sites. Certainly there seems to be no sign of its resurrection from analogue purgatory by Universal. I wonder if the original master tapes have survived. Much the same applies to the originals of the Sixth and Eighth symphonies issued on vinyl by CBS and DG (Polar) respectively in the late 1970s.
This Bis disc makes for an accessible route into knowing and understanding Pettersson’s longest symphony. For a start it is divided into nine tracks. As a basis for study and assimilation of an imposing and impenitently uningratiating work it’s good. That said, it’s not as generous in tracking as the CPO
version made by Alun Francis with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. That version runs to 69:52 against Lindberg’s 69:40. The CPO version is by no means an also-ran and is amongst the strongest components of the CPO cycle. It has plenty of propulsion and the sound quality is very vivid and analytical. This Bis recording is smoother with plenty of detail rendered without the unblinking Ultra HD definition - some might say unforgiving close focus - of the CPO. One gets the aural effect of a great concert hall from Bis where the CPO sound suggests a radio studio.
This symphony is insistent and drear but with no want of kinetic power, forward thrust and the power to move the listener who engages.
As to the documentary, this is well worth seeing at least once. It was made during the composer’s lifetime although at a time when his illness was taking a devastating toll on him. The DVD starts with an introduction spoken direct to camera by composer-conductor, Lindberg who also funded the refurbishment and issue of the documentaries. His advocacy is completely unhectoring but utterly committed and convinced that the Pettersson symphonies merit a place on concert programmes just as much as the Mahler symphonies. You can see this introduction on Youtube
as well as a great deal of other Pettersson material. The film - predominantly in colour - follows the composer from his early days, with segments of black and white cine footage and stills, reminiscences from those who knew Pettersson as a child and knew his parents. You then follow the young composer through his deprived upbringing, through his discovery of music and his studies, combined with earning sufficient to live. His lonely journey to Paris just as the Nazis entered the city is memorably put across as is his slow and painful descent down five flights of stairs when he finally leaves his flat to move to a much more congenial house with views across the water. The composer is heard at length throughout the film as are others including the conductor, Sergiu Commisiona. Naturally the music is used extensively as an affecting soundtrack.
The Allan Pettersson Project - briefing by The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra (edited version)
The Swedish composer Allan Pettersson (1911-1980) is one of the most important composers in Scandinavia, on the same level as Sibelius and Nielsen. Yet his symphonies are rarely performed, especially in Sweden, and he does not get the recognition he deserves as one of the most prominent Swedish composer’s of the 20th century.
Over the years, The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra has recorded and performed a number of Allan Pettersson’s compositions. Together with BIS Records, the orchestra has made four recordings with conductor Leif Segerstam. In 2011 a collaboration with conductor Christian Lindberg, who completed Allan Pettersson’s unfinished first symphony, began. This collaboration has, so far, resulted in three recordings.
Now the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, BIS Records and Christian Lindberg together take this project a step further. They will record a further seven of Allan Pettersson’s symphonies, combined with concerts. This project will be completed in 2018 with a CD-box, which will contain all the symphonies of Allan Pettersson. This also includes the unfinished and until now unrecorded No. 17, which will be completed by Christian Lindberg. Additionally, the box contains three documentary films about Allan Pettersson.
“I am extremely happy and grateful that Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, which is such a serious and fantastic orchestra, is willing to invest in this project”, says Christian Lindberg. I hope it will raise public interest in the symphonist Allan Pettersson and his great music.
“We are very proud that we in this way can substantiate the Swedish composer Allan Pettersson’s music and spread his work around the world”, says Karin Veres, CEO and Artistic Director of the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.
Recording Plan for the Allan Pettersson-project
In 2018, BIS will release a box set of all Allan Pettersson’s symphonies, in cooperation with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Christian Lindberg .
The plan for the recording of the box:
(with Norrköping Symphony unless otherwise stated )
Symphony No. 1 and 2 Christian Lindberg 2011
Symphony No. 3 and 15 Leif Segerstam 1993-1994
Symphony No. 5 Moshe Atzmon 1990, Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Symphony No. 6 Christian Lindberg 2012 *
Symphony No. 8 and 10 Leif Segerstam 1997
Symphony No. 9 Christian Lindberg 2013 release 31/10 2013
Symphony No. 11 Leif Segerstam 1992
To be recorded:
Symphonies Nos. 4 and 16 Christian Lindberg late 2013/2014
Symphony No. 13 Christian Lindberg late 2014/2015
Symphony No. 12 ”The dead in the square” Christian Lindberg late 2015/2016
Symphony No. 14 Christian Lindberg late 2016/2017
Symphonies No. 7 and 17 Christian Lindberg fall 2017 2018 **
All recordings are planned for January release each year
The project will also includes three documentary films about Allan Pettersson. All three films are to be included in the collection box:-
In the release of No. 9 in 2013 is included ”Människans röst” (Vox Humana - The Voice of Man
) by Peter Berggren and Gunnar Källström
In the release of Nos.4 and 16, 2014 will be ”Vem fan är Allan Pettersson?” by Sigvard Hammar and Gunnar Källström
In the release of No. 13 in 2015 will be ”Sången om Livet” by Peter Berggren.
It is planned that when the box is published in 2018 the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Christian Lindberg will make a European tour with Allan Pettersson’s music.
Symphony No. 6 was also available in a recording on LP with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra conducted by Okko Kamu from 1976, but it is the version with Christian Lindberg from 2012 that will be included in the box .
Symphony No. 7 is already available in a recording with Leif Segerstam and SON of 1992, but this will be re-recorded.
The unfinished Symphony No. 17 of 1980 will be completed by Christian Lindberg.
Agneta Lindmark Thomas