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Allan PETTERSSON (1911-1980)
Complete Songs
Torsten Mossberg (tenor), Anders Karlqvist (piano)
rec. Fåfängan, Beatelund, Ingarö, 1997 (Barefoot), Olaus Petri Church, Stockholm, 2005 (Six)
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
STERLING CDA1678-2 [68:44]

To most international listeners Allan Pettersson is, I suppose, synonymous as the composer of 17 symphonies, most of them long and not always easy to digest. In spite of this he became an esteemed composer during the last decade of his life. The breakthrough was the release of his seventh symphony in 1969 in a bestselling recording with Antal Dorati conducting. But his way to fame was long and winding and stricken with illness. In 1953, when he was just a bit over forty he was given the diagnosis rheumatoid arthritis, and his health deteriorated constantly and from the early 1970s he was constricted to his apartment most of the time, even though I saw him in a record shop in Stockholm later than that.

His 30 songs belong to his earliest works and show a side of him far removed from his symphonic oeuvre. They are intimate, mostly low-voiced and the texts circle around pain, death, longing. The six songs from 1935 were not meant to be published at all. They surfaced only a few years before his death when a music journalist from Swedish Radio visited him in his apartment happened to open a drawer in his desk. There he found a bunch of manuscripts, which Pettersson reluctantly allowed him to look through and it then took some persuasion to have them performed and recorded. The texts are by Swedish and Finnish poets and the style of the music shows influences from early 20th century European composers. Do I hear some echoes of Franz Schreker’s songs? I doubt though that Allan Pettersson can have heard them. Without searching for possible models they are attractive in their own right and since this is now the third recording of them I have had rich opportunities to come to terms with them. The other two, with Margot Rödin and Loa Falkman are from the late seventies.

Barfotasångerna (The Barefoot Songs) were written 1943-45 but revised on several occasions during the 1940s. The texts are all his own, and very personal they are. The motives are similar to his early songs but the language is intriguing, sometimes old-fashioned, often innovative. The music is also very different from the early songs. These are no Lieder, art-songs in a traditional sense, they are not popular songs either but they hover somewhere in-between. Sometimes they are close to traditional folk songs, sometimes they are related to nonconformist hymns. What they are, all 24 of them, is Allan Petterssonian. They can’t be mistaken for something else, once one has become acquainted with them. They are his own universe and it is a universe one loves to revisit. All 24 were recorded back in the 1970s by Margot Rödin and Erik Saedén, a good handful also by Loa Falkman. Erik Saedén also recorded eight of them with orchestral accompaniment, arranged by Antal Dorati, which Anders Larsson also recorded some years ago. There are other recordings as well and Monica Groop has recorded the complete songs (CPO) – a direct comparison with the present disc. I have not heard that recording, but knowing Monica Groop’s capacity I am sure they are excellent. Torsten Mossberg has, however, an advantage insofar as he sings them as closely as possible to the way Pettersson had imagined. He didn’t want operatic voices, he wrote them with a particular singer in mind, Gustaf Torrestad. Torrestad (1919 – 1962) was a singer of ballads and Schlagers, enormously popular in Sweden during the 40s and 50s. He had a warm, beautiful baritone voice and I can imagine what it would have sounded like, had he ever got to it. But he didn’t, which is a shame. Torsten Mossberg is tenor, of course, and he has a well-schooled voice but it is not an operatic voice and he never goes beyond the ballad size. He sings the songs intimately, with care for phrasing and for the texts – and it all sounds so right. My admiration for the singers mentioned above is still unlimited, but I imagine that Allan Pettersson in his heaven smiles appreciatively, mumbling “That’s the way I want ‘em!”

Readers who are already familiar with Pettersson’s orchestral music should be aware that he employed themes from the barefoot songs in some of those works, and the second violin concerto, written for and premiered by Ida Haendel, is based on the song Herren går på ängen.

Those who don’t know his symphonies, and fight shy of long, demanding orchestral works from the second half of the 20th century, are advised to forget that Pettersson was one of the great modernists during that period, and indulge in some of the most beautiful songs that were created in the previous century.

Göran Forsling

Previous review: Rob Barnett

Six Songs for voice and piano (1935)
1. Det blir stilla då kråkorna dör (It grows quiet when the crows die) [2:19]
2. En visa i ensamhet (A song in solitude) [1:09]
3. Pinjen och blixten (The pine and the lightning) [1:23]
4. Resignation (Resignation) [2:46]
5. Tillflykt (Haven) [2:04]
6. Mitt hjärta behöver ett litet barn (My heart needs a small child) [4:32]
Barefoot Songs (1943-45)
7. Klokar och knythänder (Wise men and clenched hands) [2:36]
8. Fattig är mor (Mother is poor) [1:10]
9. Vännen i söndagslanted (The friend in the Sunday Heaven) [2:52]
10. Stjärnan och gallret (The star and the prison bars) [1:46]
11. Kivlynnte liten (Little Kivlynnte) [3:05]
12. Rymmaren (The runaway) [1:56]
13. Liten ska vänta (Little shall wait) [2:16]
14. Visa i sorgton (Sorrowful song) [2:26]
15. Kärleken går vilse (Love goes astray) [3:14]
16. Nånting man mist (Something was lost) [1:34]
17. Du vet (You know) [1:37]
18. Jungfrun och ljugarpust (The maiden and the lying wind) [4:51]
19. Hundarna vid havet (The dogs by the sea) [2:01]
20. Min längtan (My yearning) [2:10]
21. Vintervisa (Winter song) [1:31]
22. Blomma säj (Flower, tell me) [2:02]
23. Herren går på ängen (The Lord walks in the meadow) [2:04]
24. En spelkarls himlafärd (Death of a fiddler) [2:04]
25. Jag tanker på ting (I think about things) [0:45]
26. Blomma vid min fot (Flower by my foot) [1:42]
27. Du lögnar (Telling lies) [1:42]
28. Mens flugorna surra (While the flies are buzzing) [2:30]
29. Nu väntar man vinter (Now we wait for winter) [4:30]
30. Han ska släcka min lykta (He will extinguish my light) [2:05]

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