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Allan PETTERSSON (1911-1980)
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1977) [53:28]
Symphony No.17 (fragment) (1980) [7:35]
Ulf Wallin (violin)
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. 2017/18, Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden
BIS BIS-2290 SACD [61:06]

Pettersson’s Violin Concerto No. 2 fits adroitly into the sequence of his symphonies. Unlike the First Violin Concerto (1949), written while the composer was still studying, and which is for violin and string quartet (Hoelscher on CPO), it is no stranded outlier. It was written in 1977, and in a language that is a comfortable fit with its surrounding roughly contemporaneous symphonies, numbers 14 and 15. The composer admitted to it being “a symphony with violin” although the violin is very vocal, crucial and centre-stage

Pettersson was pretty much wedded to the symphonic form and, as has been pointed out, the Second Violin Concerto was only the fifth piece he had written not entitled “symphony” since 1952. It was written for the violinist Ida Haendel and dedicated to her. She premiered it in the Berwald Hall, Stockholm in January 1980 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Herbert Blomstedt. This event was broadcast on radio and television. It was then recorded for the Swedish label Caprice, initially on LP (CAP 1028), and then emerged on CD (CAP 21359) just as the CD recording medium was bowing into existence. That Caprice disc is still in circulation and there’s even a little chunk of video about the composer, Haendel and the premiere on the DVD that companies BIS’s Lindberg recording of Symphony 14.

The music of the first two segments carries the impact of a high-pressure jet, but one that coruscates with variety of expression. Tongues of flame lick around what is less a ‘bruiser’ and more of a hard-nosed headlong drama. The few moments of remission and confiding, such as the one at 11:40 (I), involve the conductor and orchestra braking hard before we are swept back into the fray. The second section is an exercise in flayed passion with few moments of poise. Offset this with moments of mesmerising detail, such as the strange sneering slide for solo violin at 10:00. When repose comes it is reserved for the last two ‘movements’ and it has been hard-won. Here is the closest we come to the shores of the Barefoot Song that lies at heart of the concerto - the song Herren går på ängen (God walks in the meadow). The fourth and last section is notable as a steady ‘march’; not unhappy but not happy either. The music feels founded on the confidence that earlier conflicts have yielded: a long unblinking yet comfortable gaze into the sun’s radiance.

Bis have “manageably” tracked this massive musical span into four segments, here named as: I Opening (17:30); II Tempo II (after Fig. 54) (12:18); III A tempo (after Fig. 93) (9:32) and IV Cantando (Fig. 117) (14:08).

Apart from Haendel on Caprice, Isabelle van Keulen has recorded the piece (55:21) with Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1999 (CPO 777199-2 (2006)). I have not heard the CPO disc (which has only the concerto) but it seems to have been warmly greeted at the time. This violinist also played, for radio, Pettersson’s Two Elegies (1934) and Romanza (1942) all for violin and piano. The latter was taken by Enrico Pace.

The surviving stub of the composer’s last symphony No. 17 also fits into the sequence. It comprises a 207-bar fragment which has been referred to as a sketch for the composer’s Seventeenth Symphony. This has reportedly been performed in public on a few occasions. On the evidence of what we hear on this very welcome hybrid SACD (which I played in standard CD format) this was not to be a work where Pettersson broke away from his accustomed style or path. If you know the other later symphonies then you will recognise it as his. It has a dumbfounding and fascinating power but it is a power that is familiar. The music sears and is in constant motion afflicting and afflicted with thrusting tribulations. Groaning and explosive rhythmic cells are deployed with plenty of propulsive power. At the last, flutters of woodwind spell a precipitous ending mid-step.

Haendel’s Caprice recording will always be an authoritative presence and in a very respectable recording, wearing its forty years lightly. That said, this Bis version is potently played and transparently recorded. It comes complete with a significant and ‘enjoyable’ answer to a nagging question about how far Pettersson got with what turned out to be his last word. The label’s executive producer Robert Suff has given us the composer’s detail.

Rob Barnett

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