Pettersson: Symphonies 4 & 16 - Christian Lindberg
BIS BIS-2110 SACD (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Allan Pettersson: Symphonies 4 & 16*
Jörgen Pettersson* (alto saxophone)
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Christian Lindberg (conductor)
Compared to most other composers, Allan Pettersson was an out-and-out symphonist. Following his first attempt in the genre (Symphony No.1, left unfinished by the composer in 1951 and later completed by Christian Lindberg who has also recorded it on BIS-1860), Pettersson composed another 15 symphonies, leaving behind a fragment of one more at his death in 1980. During that time he only composed six other works and, in fact, it seems that he always had a symphony ‘on the go’.
The exception was the years leading up to Symphony No.4, recorded on the present disc. The reason would appear to be the negative reception of its predecessor, Symphony No.3, at its première in 1956. Possibly this also motivated some of Pettersson’s choices once he did start on the fourth symphony – the third had had the traditional division into four movements, but he now reverted to the one-movement scheme that he had used in his second symphony and would continue to favour in future works.
He also made a more extensive use of long, chorale-like passages that co-exist with more modernist ones. After the completion of the work, and following the death of his mother, Pettersson wrote in his journal: ‘Symphony No.4. To my mother, who has gone home to the life in which goodness is personified in God.’
It is tempting to perceive the chorale-like passages in the Fourth as directly inspired by the songs sung by his deeply religious mother in his childhood. Two decades later a similar stylistic duality pervades Symphony No.16, written in response to a request for a composition by the saxophonist Frederick L. Hemke.
Possibly it was Pettersson’s decision to incorporate a soloistic part for alto saxophone in the work which led to the occasionally ‘jazz-scented’ style of the slow, calm section which follows upon the wild opening (marked ‘frenetico’). The work is characterized by tension – a tension that is resolved in the simple, tonal and peaceful ending.
Having received overwhelming critical acclaim for their previous recordings of Allan Pettersson’s symphonies, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Christian Lindberg are joined by saxophonist Jörgen Pettersson, performing the demanding solo part.
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Review by Mark Novak - August 10, 2015
This excellently produced SACD contains a bonus DVD entitled “Who the hell is Alan Pettersson?” It is an interview with Pettersson produced in 1974 for Swedish television (with English captions) and it gives us a peek into the life of the composer who was 63 at the time. He died in 1980, just six years later. A documentary film about the composer (recorded from 1973 to 1978) appeared as a bonus DVD with the earlier BIS release of Symphony No.9. Together, these shed significant light upon Pettersson and his music. I won’t dwell on the interview contents (I’ll leave that to the reader to experience for themselves when they purchase this SACD) but I must say that Pettersson comes off as a very difficult person to like – much like his music. So, what about the music?
As in most of his symphonies, both of these works are constructed in one movement. The Fourth Symphony, 37 and a half minutes in this performance, is from 1959 that begins with a relatively diatonic minor key motif that very quickly becomes chromatically shaded by interjections from the winds. There is development around this 8th note theme for the first third of the piece leading to an island of calm, diatonic music that soothes. But this does not last long – it never does in Pettersson’s music. The opening theme reasserts itself and we are again adrift in a chromatic sea of angry winds, brass and percussion. Then, at the 29 minute mark, we have a beautiful major key string chorale. Unexpected but quite lovely. This, of course, doesn’t last long either and the work ends in minor key mode, fading away until the last mezzo-forte minor chord. Christian Lindberg seems to have fully absorbed Pettersson’s idiom – the performance is excellent and the playing of the Norkkoping Symphony is exceptional. I am aware of only one other recording of this piece – that by Alun Francis with the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony on CPO RBCD format. That recording is how I first came to know the 4th symphony. Francis takes about a minute longer (inconsequential in this piece) but the true determinant is the BIS sonics – they are world class compared to the rather average CPO RBCD sound.
Symphony 16 was Pettersson’s last completed symphony and features a solo alto saxophone throughout its 26 minute duration. A snare drum kicks the work off and the sax enters the fray – it is rarely silent for the rest of the piece. The writing is highly chromatic – the notes call it “freely tonal” – so don’t expect any sweet lollipops here. This is a significantly less likeable work, with its meandering saxophone line interweaving an arid landscape of droning orchestral accompaniment. Again, the only competing performance comes on the CPO label in RBCD format but that is one that did not make it into my collection. This performance, with Jorgen Pettersson expertly handling the saxophone chores (no relation to the composer that I am aware of), seems to fully capture the essence of the symphony in another superb SACD recording by BIS. It’s just not a work I would choose to listen to often.
The recording was made in the Norkopping Concert Hall in Sweden, engineered by Hans Kipfer and produced by Thore Brinkmann. It is a 24-bit, 96 kHz PCM master. BIS and their recording team have this venue down cold because the sound is excellent. Natural, very dynamic and revealing with just the right mix of ambient hall sound. This is truly state-of-the-art orchestral recording. This SACD is highly recommended, especially for the Fourth Symphony.
Copyright © 2015 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net