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Pettersson songs BIS2584
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Allan PETTERSSON (1911-1980)
Complete Songs
Six Songs for voice and piano (1935)
Barefoot Songs (1943-45)
Peter Mattei (baritone)
Bengt-Åke Lundin (piano)
rec. March 2021, Örebro Konserthus, Sweden
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
BIS BIS2584 SACD [71:35]

Allan Pettersson is best-known for his 17 symphonies, of which the first and the last are unfinished, but it is his songs that have endeared him to the Swedish people. The six songs from 1935, settings of poems by several then contemporary Swedish poets, may not have reached the same popularity as his 24 Barfotasånger (Barefoot Songs) from roughly ten years later, but are even so heard and recorded quite frequently. But it is the Barefoot Songs that many people know and can hum – the definitive indication that they have become a central part of Sweden’s cultural heritage. They are melodious, folksong-like and structurally fairly simple, often strophic and the texts are easy to digest – even though they are ambiguous. Many are autobiographical and deal with eternal questions like love and death. That they are 24 has led some commentators to draw parallels with Schubert’s Winterreise, it ends with death. “He will extinguish my light” says the last song, and song 21 is titled “Now we wait for winter”. But this isn’t exactly a song cycle, and had Providence been favourable, we might have had another 80 songs in the same vein. However, Sveriges Radio rejected the existing 24 when Pettersson presented them – a producer called them “rubbish” and Pettersson lost interest in the rest of his poetic output, which he kept hidden in a bag. The songs were unperformed for 25 years – apart from some of them being sung just after the war in a local radio broadcast. After his breakthrough in 1968 with his seventh symphony, interest was awakened, the songs were dug up, they were recorded and in 1975 record producer Frank Hedman was planning a book and turned to Pettersson, asking if he had more poems. Pettersson remembered the bag, and when the Barefoot Songs were published (without the music) in 1976, there was an appendix with another good dozen poems, that are just as fascinating as those set to music. By then he was busy creating his impressive oeuvre of symphonies and had no time to return to these thirty-year-old poems, but one wish he would have.

Anyway, it is a great pleasure to find that Peter Mattei has chosen to indulge in this treasure-trove, and with his superb recording of Winterreise in mind, expectations were high. Competition is keen: The pioneering recording with Margot Rödin and Erik Saedén is still available (Swedish Society SCD 1033), coupled with the six songs from 1935, sung by Margot Rödin); Monica Groop recorded both sets in 1996 (cpo 999 499-2) and Torsten Mossberg set down them in 2012 (Sterling CDA-1678 - review). The six songs and 11 of the barefoot songs were also recorded by Carl Johan Falkman in 1981 for Bluebell (not available on CD) and Anders Larsson and Olle Persson have also recorded some of the songs.

Mattei, accompanied by the versatile Bengt-Åke Lundin, avoids being too overtly operatic, which is fully in line with Pettersson’s explicit wish, that the songs were intended for Gustaf Torrestad, a popular ballad singer with a warm, sonorous baritone voice. Warmth is a natural part of Mattei’s voice as well and he sings throughout with beautiful tone, intimacy and restraint. His enunciation is exemplary, every word is distinct, and he is expressive without overdoing the drama. His are very nuanced readings and his pianissimos are permeated with empathy and deep feeling. The six early songs shiver with emotions, and he catches the melancholy – or sometimes irony – of many of the songs. Fattig är mor (Mother is poor) delineates the gloomy adolescence of the poet, with poverty, cold, hunger, a drinking father and wavering faith in God – the Lord has no interest in the star that is called Earth. In other songs God’s existence in nature is depicted. In Blomma säj (Flower, tell me) the flower has its roots in heaven, and it is nurtured by God’s breath. In the probably best-known song, Herren går på ängen (The Lord walks in the Meadow), the Lord walks “mostly among thistles”, but he also “fetches brother poverty to the broad path”. They are sung with great tenderness, and the latter song seems to be very close to Allan Pettersson’s inner thoughts; there is no coincidence that the melody is the central motif in his second violin concerto.

Peter Mattei and Bengt-Åke Lundin have assimilated the essence of Allan Pettersson’s very special world in this new recording and BIS have provided excellent recording and production values, including Per F Broman’s eminent liner notes. He ends his notes with a quotation from Bo Wallner’s review of the songs: “He has written with his heart’s blood.” This makes them essential in the canon of Swedish art songs. No one with ever so little interest in this genre can afford to be without at least one recording of them. The four I have listed at the beginning of this review are all recommendable – I have a special predilection for Torsten Mossberg’s reading – but if you have to limit yourself to only one, the present issue is the one to go for.

Göran Forsling

Six songs for voice and piano:
1. Det blir stilla då kråkorna dör (It grows quiet when the crows die) [2:38]
2. En visa i ensamhet (A song in solitude) [0:55]
3. Pinjen och blixten (The pine and the lightning) [1:13]
4. Resignation (Resignation) [2:21]
5. Tillflykt (Haven) [1:47]
6. Mitt hjärta behöver ett litet barn (My heart needs a small child) [5:10]

Barefoot Songs:
7. Visa i sorgton (Sorrowful song) [2:38]
8. Klokar och knythänder (Wise men and clenched hands) [2:27]
9. Fattig är mor (Mother is poor) [1:10]
10. Kärleken går vilse (Love goes astray) [3:05]
11. Stjärnan och gallret (The star and the prison bars) [1:45]
12. Nånting man mist (Something was lost) [1:41]
13. Blomma säj (Flower, tell me) [2:04]
14. Vintervisa (Winter song) [1:29]
15. Liten ska vänta (Little shall wait) [2:19]
16. Jungfrun och ljugarpust (The maiden and the lying wind) [5:02]
17. En spelkarls himlafärd (Death of a fiddler) [2:08]
18. Du vet (You know) [2:09]
19. Du lögnar (Telling lies) [1:51]
20. Herren går på ängen (The Lord walks in the meadow) [1:59]
21. Hundarna vid havet (The dogs by the sea) [2:16]
22. Kivlynnte liten (Little Kivlynnte) [3:18]
23. Jag tänker på ting (I think about things) [0:45]
24. Blomma vid min fot (Flower by my foot) [1:49]
25. Rymmaren (The runaway) [2:04]
26. Min längtan (My yearning) [2:11]
27. Nu väntar man vinter (Now we wait for winter) [3:36]
28. Vännen i söndagslanted (The friend in the Sunday Heaven) [2:42]
29. Mens flugorna surra (While the flies are buzzing) [2:36]
30. Han ska släcka min lykta (He will extinguish my light) [1:44]

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