Vox Humana (1974) *
The Shepherd of Days (1963) ** [19.32]
* Marianne Mellnäs (sop);
Margot Rödin (alto); Sven-Erik Alexandersson (ten); Erland Hagegård
(bar); Swedish Radio Choir; Swedish RSO/Stig Westerberg
rec 22 March 1976; 24 May 1976, RSAM, Stockholm.
** Rolf Leanderson (bar); Norrköping SO/Göran W Nilson
rec 27 Nov 1981,
BIS BIS-CD-55 [70.17]
You can tell, from the low catalogue number, that this disc was an early
CD issue with its origins in two LPs from the pristine analogue traditions
of the Swedish 1970s and early 1980s. Hiss levels are lower than we need
to worry about and sound is well rounded yet nicely defined. The difference
in recording venue is felt in the airy sound of the Pettersson.
Dagdrivaren (or The Shepherd of Days) is a setting in six songs
of poems from Sven Alfons's 'Ängelens bild'. It is not a work of easy
lyrical emission. Its forebears are in Schoenberg's Jacobsleiter and
Havergal Brian's Wine of Summer but without Brian's rococo profusion.
The nocturnal ghoul chase of Rysande inträngde taps into a terror
which also hunts and haunts the Han står song. The vocal setting
is close to 'sprechstimme' and the bleak expression of Warlock's Curlew.
Only in the steady pacing of Sitt hjärta does Rosenberg draw
near the romance tradition of the Swedish artsong and to his admired
Rangström. Leanderson is in very fine voice with no distractions or
idiosyncrasies. The texts and translation are given in full as they are for
I expected Vox Humana by that symphonist of anxiety and anguish to
be another exercise in torment. In fact the approach differs radically from
the fifteen symphonies. I would liken it to the sort of Serenade William
Boyce wrote in the Eighteenth Century. Pettersson, here, is far closer to
the Nordic romance tradition than his discmate, Rosenberg. He does not disdain
the Bachian aria and cantilena. His way is that of the cantata rather than
of the hectoring demagogue. While one of the string gestures in the En
man and Lynch echoes the louder bass-ward thrusting gloom of the
Seventh Symphony the rest might well belong to anthology cantatas like Pfitzner's
Von Deutsche Seele. The valse triste of Dikt till en död
vän is affectingly done.
This work has its relationship with the Barfötasänger. Effect
and protest and compassion are articulated by reticence and understatement.
Listen, for example, to the quiet coaxing stillness of the choir in Den
sista dikten. Exceptions are few and include the striking string protests
of Che which take us to the door leading into the Ninth Symphony (when
will the Sergiu Commissiona LP recording be reissued or licensed by Philips?).
This is unpretentious music of telling simplicity. In this quality the generally
fresh voices and characters of the singers (the men are particularly good
in this respect) and choir are a great advantage. The work is in three parts
of unequal duration (I: 36.17 II: 4.03; III: 9.27) and sets eight South American
poets the best known of whom is Pablo Neruda. The words (which would have
appealed to Alan Bush as well) touch on oppression, death, protest and daily
peasant life - aspects central to Pettersson who himself came from the most
acutely deprived of backgrounds. His childhood amid damp and cold amid the
social exclusion of Stockholm's poorest tenements, left its mortal legacy
in the form of the crippling rheumatoid arthritis that blighted his life
from 1960 until his death.
A contrasted coupling with the contrasting elements not dividing in the way
one might expect.