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Allan PETTERSSON (1911-1980)
Symphony No.6 (1963-66) [59:50]
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. Jan 2012, Louis de Geer concert hall, Norrköping, Sweden
BIS BIS-SACD-1980 [59:50]

Experience Classicsonline

BIS are no quitters; we know that. Even so, some of their projects can come more quickly to achievement than others. Their Pettersson symphony cycle is still in hand and this is the latest delivery. The others are:-

Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, Aug 2011 · CD-1860
Symphonies 8 and 10, Apr 1998 · CD-880
Symphony No.3 and 15, Jun 1995 · CD-680
Symphonies No.7 and 11, Jun 1993 · CD-580
Symphony No.5, Aug 1990 · CD-480
Thus symphonies 4, 9, 12-14 and 16 lie in the future. At this rate it will be another decade before Bis can issue a Pettersson box to vie with that from CPO.
Allan Pettersson’s last and very painful years saw his symphonies featuring in radio broadcasts. These were prolifically copied across the world, often on audio-cassette. He also rode the final wave of LP issues from a miscellany of labels. Notable among these were the rare and horribly expensive DG Polar of No. 8 and the Swedish Philips double-LP set of No.9, both with Sergiu Comissiona: Baltimore for No. 8 and Goteborg for No. 9. I remember buying these at frightening prices from Direction, Dean Street and Harold Moores, None of these LPs have been officially reissued though I see that the enterprising Haydn House has taken up the challenge if you are interested. The Sixth Symphony’s first recording did not come from Comissiona nor from Dorati whose Seventh put Pettersson’s name up in lights but from Karajan protégé Okko Kamu. He and the very same orchestra as here had their recording issued on a CBS LP 76553 (April 1976). For a change, I managed to pick this up in a W.H. Smith’s sale in Torquay; not the sort of music they stock now. 

While one cannot now hear the Kamu except through that private HH reissue the Sixth has been recorded on CD by CPO. Lindberg captures Pettersson’s painful mixture of tragedy and majesty so well. The cackling woodwind about ten minutes into the work have never been captured with such relishable immediacy; acidic percussion impacts likewise at 51:08. The peak of ecstatic pain comes in the carolling brass at about 29:00 as the deeper instruments lash the soul while the trumpets claw at the heavens. This version keeps up the tension across the massive hour-long movement in a single track in a way that neither Okko Kamu nor Manfred Trojahn on CPO 999 124-2 have done. While the long slow pulse is there in all its Petterssonian fidelity the fast music is given a strongly accented propulsion too and this works very well indeed. The all-conquering lyrical element that winged the Seventh to fame is there in the Sixth. This time it is the melody, Han ska släcka min lykta (He will extinguish my light) which is the last of his own Barefoot Songs. It can be heard again at 55:23. The whole cycle of Barefoot Songs has been included in Sterling’s complete Pettersson songs just issued on CDA1678-2. A repeated groaning ostinato cell (39:14 and 49:00), similar to that in the Seventh, propels the music mournfully and sometimes jaggedly forward under the melody. It’s a simple device yet very effective. It took an audacious composer to run with this epic and extended idea and to spin it over such a prolonged span. The final balm-like four minutes are a calming benison to troubled souls. Not quite up there with the Seventh Symphony but very close. Precious music.
Rob Barnett 


Thanks to Giorgio Nicoli, Martin Walker and Jeffrey Davis for contacting me with their Pettersson recording memories.

Giorgio passed on the very good news that Christian Lindberg and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra performed the Pettersson Ninth Symphony in November and January 2013 and later in January 2012 they will record it for BIS. It seems that an SACD release is scheduled in a few months time. There’s a concert review at The Pettersson Bis cycle is scheduled to proceed this year with the Fourth and Sixteenth symphonies. So my speculation about having to wait another decade for the completion of the BIS cycle looks to have been unduly pessimistic.

Martin Walker corrects me – and it’s great news: The Kamu Pettersson 6 can it seems be downloaded from a specialist Blog which can be found using Google. The online Unsung Composers List (anyone can join) has a list of recordings privately digitalised: these offer several interesting Pettersson performances. He wondered how much the Comissiona Pettersson 8 on DGG Polar was: It’s a long time ago now but it would have been something like £6.00 – a lot at the time. Martin was fortunate enough have picked up a copy for a song at some German LP sale.

Jeffrey Davis came across the fine old Kamu LP in a small record shop in Whitby circa 1980 and also purchased the very expensive DGG Commissiona No 8 - probably from Imhofs or Farringdon records in Cheapside. Jeffrey reminded me that the last part of No. 6 was referred in the Kamu CBS LP notes as something like 'the long struggle towards the sunrise'.

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