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Pettersson: Symphony No. 6 - Lindberg

Pettersson: Symphony No. 6 - Lindberg

BIS  BIS-SACD-1980

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Allan Pettersson: Symphony No. 6 (Nordiska Musikförlaget)

Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Christian Lindberg (conductor)


Among the symphonies by Allan Pettersson, the Seventh is often accorded a special importance, partly because of the immediate success it enjoyed at its first performance, in 1968, but also because it has come to be perceived as more closely associated than other works with the personal life of its composer. As a result, Symphony No.6, which was premièred less than a year before the seventh, has come to be overshadowed by its successor. It is nevertheless an imposing work: an almost hour-long single-movement symphony in which the composer established a specific, self-contained musical style which would serve as a basis for the three symphonies that followed in quick succession.

Allan Pettersson’s Sixth forms a compelling and singular edifice, with its slow introduction, a first part characterised by intense activity on a motivic level and a slower second part reminiscent of an immense coda and remarkable for Pettersson’s extensive use of the melody from Han ska släcka min lykta (‘He will extinguish my light’), the last of his own Barefoot Songs. Christian Lindberg – ‘whose affinity with Pettersson’s idiom is manifest’ (Gramophone) – has previously conducted the three Concertos for String Orchestra on BIS, as well as the first ever performance and recording of the First Symphony.

This work was begun in the late 1940s, but although the composer never completed it, he never abandoned it either. Christian Lindberg oversaw the preparation of a performance edition based on Pettersson’s sketches, and his recording of the results was received with great interest at its release in 2011, with critical accolades including the seal of approval from International Record Review (‘Outstanding’), klassik-heute.de (‘10/10/10’) and Scherzo magazine (‘Disco excepcional’), and praise for both Christian Lindberg and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.

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PCM recording

Recorded in January 2012 at the Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden

Producer: Martin Nagorni

Sound engineer: Fabian Frank

Equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Micstasy microphone preamplifier and high resolution A/D converter; MADI optical cabling; Yamaha 02R96 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones

Post-production: Editing: Martin Nagorni
Mixing: Fabian Frank

Executive producer: Robert Suff

96 kHz / 24-bit resolution
Reviews (2)
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Review by John Miller - September 8, 2012

Despite finally admitting that Allan Pettersson (1911-80) was one of the greatest Swedish composers, and probably one of the greatest symphonists of the C20th, the Scandinavian concert-goers and musical establishment still left him to walk alone. Even now, his 17 symphonies, 3 concertos for soloist and orchestra, 3 concertos for orchestra, 2 song cycles and some chamber music are rarely played, and his star must mostly be found in recordings. BIS have their ongoing cycle now joined by trombonist/conductor Christian Lindberg, who has shown himself as authoritative an interpreter as Leif Segerstam, with the splendid Norrköping Symphony Orchestra remaining as dedicated and committed players.

The Six Symphony is, like the other symphonies, enigmatic, demanding much of its listeners. Pettersson's life was full of personal anguish and had a universal disgust with unfeeling Mankind. He said "The music forming my work is in my own life, its blessing, its curses...". Evidently, in this case, the curse was his acute suffering of rheumatoid arthritis for much of his life, which left him bereft of sleep, suffering at a time in which there were no effective remedies.

The Sixth, like some of the other symphonies, has only one movement, lasting a few seconds short of an hour. Rising softly from the deep bass comes the devil's harmony, a tritone of B-F, heralding a slow introduction from the strings, which present some of the motifs later to be developed in the rest of the work. The movement has many sections, generally tonal but often characterised by almost obsessive repetition in various combinations. The large orchestra, well endowed with percussion, including tam-tam and bass drum, is given some highly unusual and characteristic textures in which the thematic material is embedded, and this is very much Pettersson's distinctive voice.

Up to about 24' into the movement, all is anguish, agitation and desperation, as the composer was in a terrible state of health when he started the work, resulting in the longest gestation of any of his symphonies (1963-66). But a crisis is now reached, much as a fever finally breaks. A French horn plays a sad fanfare, handing it on to the rest of the brass, where it is punctuated by shrieks from the upper strings. The mood now becomes calmer, more lyrical and emotionally intense. There is even tenderness from a violin solo, developing into a long-breathed melody which progresses with various degrees of passion through the rest of the movement. In fact, this key melody is one from Pettersson's early Barefoot Songs (1943-45), titled "He Will Extinguish my Light". A Barber-like threnody for strings, glowingly played here, is accompanied by woodwind chords which suggest an irregular heartbeat.

Birdsong calls return from part one of the movement, and although still progressing more or less steadily, the song becomes punctuated by stabbing staccato brass chords topped by triangle, building tension and moving forward into crescendo in quite a Sibelian way. Finally, the song is extinguished and the music slides back down to the depths from whence the symphony first emerged.

It is the brilliance of Petersson's expression of the dichotomy between utter despair and life affirmation that illuminates the human condition in the symphony, making it deeply rewarding and thought-provoking. One also has to admire the stamina of the orchestra in concentrating for such a long sweep, and their intelligent and virtuosic execution of Lindberg's tautly-planned and effectively drawn arc of our musical journey.

This is the first SA-CD in the BIS cycle, and the engineers provide it with a very appropriate immediacy, where all the detailed scoring makes its mark. The Louis de Geer Concert Hall in Norrköping supplies sufficient tonal bloom, but even in the 5.0 track the building does not have a distinctive reverberance sufficient to distance or muddy affairs. There is a good perspective, with the very active percussion band clearly at the back of the orchestra.

Some listeners may find Pettersson's music daunting, but I would urge them to try. He spoke with passion and empathy about humanity, and given such beautiful sound capture, this disc of the Sixth, with its positive second half, might be a good place to start. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2012 John Miller and HRAudio.net

Review by Mark Novak - February 22, 2014

Allan Pettersson’s music is unique. Though he lived to be 79 years old, his output is relatively small and concentrated almost exclusively on orchestral works among which his 15 completed symphonies are the pinnacle (his first and seventeenth symphonies were unfinished – though Christian Lindberg has completed and recorded the 1st Symphony for BIS and apparently is doing the same for the 17th). Pettersson suffered from severe arthritis for much of his adult life and to say that this condition had an influence on his music would be an understatement. Much of his symphonic oeuvre is grim and angst-filled. It can be challenging to listen to especially if one’s desire is to be lifted up emotionally by the music. The Symphony No.6 is just such a work.

As with the rest of his output, the 6th symphony is highly chromatic but never abandons tonality. The work is in a single, hour-long movement which is remarkable in itself until you consider that his 9th and 13th symphonies each are single movements works that run to about 69 minutes! The 6th symphony, after a very somber introduction in the basses, ebbs and flows around short (3-6 note) motifs leading to a forte climax around the half-way point. There are no long melodic lines, no tunes to hum, but there is plenty of drama along the way as rocking motifs give way to orchestral outbursts from the excellent Norrkoping Symphony. This seems like very difficult music to conduct effectively yet Christian Lindberg fully comprehends Pettersson’s musical idiom. This performance of the 6th seems more cohesive to me than the one conducted by Manfred Trojahn on CPO and the BIS recording is outstanding in its clarity, naturalness and impact. The final measures remind me of Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead as the music fades away to a rocking motif. It is sublime.

If you are looking for uplifting, joyous music to lift your mood, stay away – stay very far away from this. But if you can appreciate the deepest utterances of a soul dealing with unrelenting pain then by all means explore this worthy and noble music. It may change you. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2014 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net

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Comments (1)
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Comment by Luketsu - June 8, 2017 (1 of 1)

I've never been excited on Allan Pettersson's music, to be honest. Actually the man and his works were totally unknown for me for a long time. But gradually I've learned to understand his music, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Christian Lindberg and Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.
It seems his symphonies follows the same recipe: dark and miserable tones are compiled to even more darker ones. It's difficult to find light and hope with these works. Still they're very fascinating listening experiences yet never dull. Close your eyes and listen to the music carefully; it will bring you to the another world, another reality.
Up to this point symphonies nos. 6, 9 and 14 have become somewhat familiar for me. Especially I have enjoyed to listen to the 6 & 9. I've found similarities between Pettersson's and Mahler's music and this was perhaps the reason why it was so easy to start listening. Mahler is my favourite composer - strikingly he loved cycling just like me - and Pettersson continued his tradition as a composer whom tragedies can be heard clearly in the music.
I haven't heard those albums in multichannel but even in stereo they have offered really memorable moments. I'm more than happy that Christian Lindberg and NSS have started this important and significant project. And we should not forget dear Robert von Bahr who has fought to set SACD to the place where it should be.