Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 7 (1968) 40.12
Symphony No. 16* (1979) 22.23
Stockholm PO/Antal Dorati
rec Stockholm 18-20 Sept 1969
* Frederick L Hemke (saxophone)
* Stockholm PO/Yuri Ahronovitch
rec Stockholm 17-18 Oct 1984
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Pettersson still comes in for a negative press. He is condemned for a self-indulgence and mawkish introversion which even if true is not uncommon amongst works that are feted ad performed. It is remarkable that in the UK he is largely absent from Radio 3's playlists or the roster for the Henry Wood Proms.

The Seventh Symphony is a symphony of laments with an undeniable intensity that sears, rends and croons over a 40 minute duration. Many people rate the second symphony very highly and it was this work that was featured in Paul Rapoport's book 'Opus Est'. For me, however, the serene and troubled Seventh stands at the apex of his works. It is (for this composer) pretty concise and as varied as they get. It is a very serious work: no bread and circuses here. It is all beautifully done and the malign siren of the trombone baritone howl brings us into touch with the taste of decay and the jaws of Gehenna. If you have discovered and stayed with Mahler Symphony No. 9, the Adagietto of No. 5 or Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs you should, with some persistence, have little trouble with this poignantly tragic work. The crooning of the violins in the closing fifteen minutes are one of the greatest expressions of emotion in 20th century music.

Frederick L Hemke was the American saxophonist who commissioned and premiered the Sixteenth Symphony (his last completed symphony). The work is an oneiromantic death hunt: dashing and rhapsodic though hardly Coates' Saxo-Rhapsody! The saxophone part desperately sings to extract every lyric droplet from life's too short span. Once again it is a succinct work. The solo instrument helps sustain interest as does the reminiscence at 7.07 of the Seventh Symphony. The work sinks resignedly into a dream like a complex variant of the last movement of the Pathétique symphony: a falling away, a singing amid resignation, a soft song of defiance in the face of fate.

I recommend this hard-to-find disc very highly. It is the disc to have if you wish a single disc representative of Pettersson. The seventh is the best performance available (in a field of four, I think) - very special indeed and the place to start. The sixteenth is short and eventful lit by a luminously abrasive part for the saxophone. However if you are new to this composer start do persist with the seventh.

Both works are single movement works and are banded as such. Notes are adequate being culled from the LP releases.

Rob Barnett

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