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Allan PETTERSSON (1911-1980)
Mesto (1956-1957) [25.26]
Symphony No. 2 (1952-53) [41.48]
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stig Westerberg
rec. large auditorium, Royal Academy of Music, Stockholm, Nov 1961 (Mesto); 6, 8, 9, 11 Mar 1966 (2). ADD

For most of the 1960s and 1970s Pettersson's only commercial recording representation came from Swedish Society Discofil. When Harold Moores had their sale during the autumn of 1979 I bought those three LPs. The Mesto was coupled with excerpts from Sibelius's Tempest music, symphonies 2 and 7 were on separate albums. Of this immersion I confess to finding at the time little to grip me in the Mesto or in the forbidding Second Symphony. The LPs were cheap and stacked high so I felt little real disappointment even if I did regret the money spent on the still inexplicable Bengt Hambraeus electronic music disc. Such disappointment as there may have been was offset anyway by picking up LPs of Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare and his Sinfonia Concertante - both of which spent many hours on my turntable.

The Mesto is the slow movement of the monumental Concerto for No. 3 for strings. It can be heard in full context with the other two Pettersson string concertos on CPO 999 225-2. Do not look for humour in this music. If it is there it wears a crooked and unstable smile. This is music grave and stressed with vinegary Sibelian wraiths intimated at 18.48. That does not stop it being varied and indeed Pettersson's trademark trudging and pattering rhythmic figures are there. So are the keening acidic violins and the ruthlessly cycling baritonal commentary of the violas and cellos. Its forty years show only in the friable sound at the very start. (By the way it should not be too long before Intim-Musik issue their CD of the two Nystroem concertos for strings).

The Second Symphony was written in Paris behind the back of his teacher René Leibowitz (whose Beethoven symphony cycle is on Chesky). It was created in the basement of the Swedish Church. This is of about the same dimensions as the Seventh Symphony and is also in a single movement. This is almost unrelentingly the work of a nightmare depressive. Searing shreds of Tchaikovskian string writing (Pathétique), Bergian lyrical material, the scarred emotions of the Fourth symphonies of Sibelius and Shostakovich (not that he would have known the latter work) are refracted through a harsh surrealism - a dark night of the soul indeed. There is some placid balm as at 8.10, 13.15. 29.48 but it is in short supply and brutally cut short each time or shrivelled into gloom. There are some delicate moments in this music but it is often as if Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye had been doused in acid. There is anger too in this music. Memorable moments include the fluttered vulnerable and stabbing trumpet fanfares at 28.10. Indeed a sharp thrust from the trumpets ushers the work towards its close. The tenderness of the Seventh Symphony is foreshadowed at 39.00 - a moment of consolation which true to form is soon napalmed by Pettersson's despairing reality. There is some analogue hiss but rarely do you notice this.

I keep hoping that Discofil will rescue from vinyl oblivion three Pettersson recordings that never made it to CD. There is the Sony LP (76553) of the Sixth Symphony where the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra were conducted by Okko Kamu. The Philips double LP set (6767 951) of the Ninth Symphony in which the Goteborg Symphony Orchestra were conducted by Sergiu Comissiona. Also ripe for licensing if DG agree is the similarly Comissiona/Baltimore LP of the Eighth Symphony (Polar/DG 2531 176). On these late 1970s discs the Pettersson revival, brought to fruition by CPO and Bis, was built. No doubt the licensing negotiations would be arduous but the artistic rewards from these pioneering discs would be high.

Not the place to start your Pettersson pilgrimage, for that you need the magnificent Dorati version of the Seventh also on Discofil. This is instead gritty, uncompromising and uningratiating, where structural demands are seemingly alien and where spontaneity and responsiveness to the moment leads the listener through a fearsome realm.

Pettersson enthusiasts must have this disc as a record of the vivid and excoriating imagination of Pettersson, Westerberg and the Swedish Society pioneers.

Rob Barnett


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