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Pettersson: Symphony No. 9 - Lindberg

Pettersson: Symphony No. 9 - Lindberg

BIS  BIS-2038 SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


PETTERSSON, Allan (1911–80): Symphony No.9 (1970)

Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Christian Lindberg (conductor)


Allan Pettersson composed his Ninth Symphony in 1970, two years after the Seventh had been given a triumphant première conducted by Antal Dorati. This had brought him greater recognition than ever before, but at the same time his health was deteriorating even further, and shortly after completing the Ninth Pettersson was hospitalized for a period of nine months.

It is striking that he at such a time should have chosen to compose what is the longest of all his works – in the score Pettersson himself estimated the duration to ‘65–70 minutes’, and the first recording of the work actually lasted for more than 80 minutes. As so many of the symphonies, the work is in one single movement which may be described as an extended struggle in which harmony is the ultimate winner.

As Pettersson himself had said about an earlier work: ‘If one fights one’s way through a symphony one needs to achieve consonance and harmony even if it takes twenty hours to do so.’ In the case of the Ninth, this harmony is summed up more concisely than ever before or after, in the final two chords which form a plagal or ‘Amen’ cadence in F major. Completing a cycle for BIS of Pettersson’s symphonies, Christian Lindberg and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra have been receiving great critical acclaim for previous instalments – most recently a Sixth described in International Record Review as ‘a release that could well be the ideal introduction to Pettersson’s singular musical vision’.

About the same disc, the reviewer in Gramophone wrote: ‘Lindberg’s empathy for Pettersson’s music is once again shown in the Sixth, where he catches its dark atmosphere to perfection, pacing its progress through the succession of climaxes superbly well.’

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PCM recording

Recorded in January 2013 at the Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden, 24/96

Recording producer: Robert Suff

Sound engineer: Matthias Spitzbarth

Recording equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Micstasy microphone pre-amplifier and high-resolution A/D converter; MADI optical cabling; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation (for SACD); B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones

Post-production: Editing: Matthias Spitzbarth
Mixing: Robert Suff, Matthias Spitzbarth

Executive producer: Robert Suff
Reviews (1)
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Review by Mark Novak - March 1, 2014

Allan Pettersson stretches the idiom of “tonal music” about as far as it can go without quite reaching the breaking point. The recently released 6th symphony (Pettersson: Symphony No. 6 - Lindberg) is an excellent example of this. Yet, despite the 6th symphony’s unrelenting and angst-filled nature, there is always a thread, however small, of triadic harmony lingering somewhere in the canvas - a glimpse of hope amid a torrent of pain and suffering. The 9th symphony, a 70 minute, single movement work (!), carries on this tradition but it is not as relentlessly grim as the 6th.

The 9th symphony, in some strange way, reminds me a bit of Shostakovich’s 7th in that it starts with a rhythmic march figure which is taken at a much faster pace than in Shostakovich’s symphony. This fast-paced march sets the tone for the whole work, building in intensity over a long period reaching a brief climax at the ~ 14 minute mark. At this point, the music recedes some though that insistent march continues in the background before finally giving up (for the time being!). This leads to a more serene section where string and wind motifs (I refrain from calling them melodies) beckon one another all on top of the original pulse of the march theme (though the march itself is gone – for now). Those who suffer from unrelenting physical pain (like Pettersson’s arthritis) know the feeling – stretches of time where the pain subsides yet the memory of it lingers still. And it is not long before the turmoil surfaces again. Agitated outbursts from the low brass and shrieking violin figures begin to reassert themselves. At the 34 minute mark, there is a motif in the low strings reminiscent of Shostakovich’s manic allegro non troppo movement from the Symphony No.8 (written 27 years before Pettersson’s 9th) – could there have been some unconscious influence?

Then, of all things, a tango motif rears its head at ~42 minute mark only to be quickly dispatched. A remembrance of better times? Perhaps. The unrelenting tread continues until the pace quickens even more at the 62 minute mark where bass drum and timpani assert their presence. One last attempt for hope to break through amidst the turmoil? A melancholy minor-key string chorale brings the work to the finish line only to have a sunny, major-key resolution peak through in the last few bars.

As the symphony ended all I wanted to do was to listen to it again. Call me strange – that’s okay! There is something about Pettersson’s music that draws me like a moth to the flame. Perhaps it is Pettersson’s naked emotion made palpable in his musical outpouring.

The playing of the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christian Lindberg is extraordinary! One could not ask for more in this challenging music. BIS has done a service by providing 9 tracks throughout the single movement and the excellent notes by Per-Henning Olsson take advantage of those tracks in describing various portions of the symphony. The 96 kHz/24-bit recording, produced by Robert Suff and engineered by Matthias Spitzbarth, is fantastic in its detail and naturalness, allowing us to hear every aspect of Pettersson’s fevered vision. Bravo, bravo BIS!

If you are new to Pettersson’s music it is best NOT to start here. I would recommend either the 7th or 8th symphonies as one way to ease oneself into Pettersson’s idiom (there are good recordings of those symphonies on BIS and CPO RBCD’s). If you already know and appreciate his music, then by all means you must hear this recording. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2014 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net

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