Pettersson's Fifth was the last symphony he was able to write out
in his own hand before polyarthritis struck home. It is in his accustomed,
massive, single movement. The work opens in the quietest of whispering mysteries,
punctuated with stabbing figures, tolling and tumultuous brass and strange
bird and insect calls. The symphony marks his middle period spanned by symphonies
5-9 of which all but No. 8 (in 2 movements) are single movement monoliths.
It was premiered in November 1963 conducted by that one-man giant of the
Swedish international musical renaissance, Stig Westerberg. However the success
of this performance had little stamina and Pettersson had to wait until the
celebrated Dorati performances of No 7 (a work whose weary repose is prefigured
at 31:00 Track 1) to make any real headway.
Symphony No 16 was written in the same year as another concertante
work: the viola concerto. It was written at the request of the American saxophone
virtuoso, Fred Hemke whose recording is on Swedish Society Discofil coupled
with the 7th symphony. When the CPO soloist saw the work he noticed how the
saxophone part did not fully exploit the instrument in Pettersson's own terms.
With the permission of the publishers he prepared his own edition which is
recorded here. The characteristic sax-wail seems entirely in character with
Pettersson's gale-tossed turmoil, breasting the hurricane like a sea-bird.
The territory is familiar. There is little peace in the work. The furious
angst is alleviated by a second movement producing another of those wonderful
Pettersson melody-laments. It is amongst his finest examples. This repose
which is almost Bachian is surely what he envisioned for himself but, what
puzzles me, is why he placed it second in the four movements. He veers into
jazz territory in the fourth movement. The instrument is always heard as
it cavorts, spurs, goads and leads the orchestra. This is a very tuneful
score and one of Pettersson's most accessible. Those who have enjoyed other
modern sax concertos (e.g. Michael Nyman's Where The Bee Dances) would
do well to give it a spin.
There are other recordings of these pieces though I have not heard them.
No. 16 is on Discofil and probably in a different version so is not directly
comparable. The Fifth Symphony is on BIS and also on another level with a
German youth orchestra. Both performances have been praised elsewhere but
I cannot imagine either of them being markedly superior to this one. The
Saarbrucken players and Alun Francis seem to have no shortage of commitment
The recording is fine and the notes are very thorough as is true of all this
series. I did not however understand why the fifth symphony was allocated
only a single track when (helpfully) CPO's CD of Nos 10/11 divided each work
into five tracks separated by bar number references. It is a sobering thought
that CPO are now within hailing distance of a complete cycle. Only the fragments
of 1 and 17 and the whole of number 12 to go!