Swedish composer Allan Pettersson is not best known for his songs. If he attracts acclaim - and he should - then it attaches to his orchestral works: the sixteen symphonies, two violin concertos and the concertos for string orchestra. With that accepted, his Barefoot Songs like the earlier Six Songs are determinedly tonal. They recall and are inspired by his poverty-stricken childhood and have always had a biographical profile amongst Pettersson enthusiasts. In the early days these were heard on LP alongside his symphonies. They are after all a less expensive proposition to perform and record. On top of that they have a relationship to the symphonies.
This is not the first CD of Pettersson's complete songs. In 1998 a set came from Monica Groop and Cord Garben on CPO 999 4992. There the Barefoot Songs (24) ran to 49:52 and the other six to 14:39. At least one commentator felt that Groop's big voice was not ideal for these simple, introverted and painfully atmospheric songs. I have not heard that CPO disc but certainly Mossberg, the tenor in this case, seems completely in tune with their style and sentiments. The recording is close and warm which plays well to Mossberg who is very clear and appealing without boasting the most muscular of voices.
The Six Songs deal with loneliness and destiny, fate and death - all ripely attractive to this composer. They set Swedish poets in words addressing the same subject matter as the Barefoot Songs.
The Barefoot Songs, to words by Pettersson, relate to his childhood in which cold, hunger, indifference, violence and alcoholism are the bleak themes. These are songs of childhood but there is no scintilla of Disney here. The melodic material is however disarmingly engaging even if the subject matter remains locked into simple domestic scenes including the schoolroom and the family living room. They were quarried for musical themes for the seven Sonatas for Two Violins, Symphony No. 6 and the Violin Concerto No. 2. Written during his time as a violist with what is now the Royal Stockholm PO they appeared before he was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis. Their honeyed melodic ways would have made them ‘naturals’ for Jussi Björling but as far as I know he never tackled any of them. There are some childlike dance elements here too. An example can be found in Mother Is Poor. Privation echoing that of Dickens’ East End of London lies at the heart of what we hear and its impact is heightened by the artfully achieved simplicity of the settings. Anxiety and a modest measure of dissonance can be heard in the harshness of the fourth song meshing with despair and inevitability. The unaffected Something was Lost is a beguiling song freighted with Schubertian sadness. Pictorial effects are not uncommon as in the sound of barking in the piano part of The dogs by the Sea. You can also hear the bluebottle buzzing in While the flies are buzzing. There’s the mournful sea-sway of the Gösta Nystroem songs in My Yearning. All this melancholy may get to you so beware but is it any more than that found in the songs of Othmar Schoek?- it’s certainly no less intense. By way of illustration Flower Tell Me has a last line that says - “Is it tiring to wait for the hand / that will break just your stem?”
The songs are sung in Swedish, their original language, and these are reproduced in the excellent Sterling booklet alongside translations into English.
These songs may be remorselessly morose but Pettersson distils beauty from sorrow.
Full contents list
Barefoot Songs (24), for voice and piano
1 Visa i sortgton 2:34
2 Klokar, och knythänder 2:41
3 Fattig är mor 1:12
4 Kärleken går vilse 3:20
5 Stjärnan och gallret 1:39
6 Nånting man mist 1:40
7 Blomma säj! 2:03
8 Vintervisa 1:33
9 Liten ska vänta 2:06
10 Jungfrun och Ljugarpust 3:13
11 En spelekarls himlafärd 2:01
12 Du vet 2:12
13 Du lögnar 1:37
14 Herren går på ängen 2:12
15 Hundarna vid havet 2:06
16 Kivlynnte liten 2:30
17 Jag tänker på ting 0:47
18 Blomma vid min fot 1:31
19 Rymmaren 2:13
20 Min längtan 2:10
21 Nu väntar man vinter 1:43
22 Vännen i Söndagslandet 2:35
23 Men flugorna surra 2:12
24 Han ska släcka min lyka 2:02
Songs (6) for medium voice and piano
25 Det blir stilla då kråkorna dör 2:09
26 En visa i ensamhet 1:20
27 Pinjen och blixten 1:19
28 Resignation 2:40
29 Tillflykt 1:52
30 Mitt hjärta behöver ett litet barn 5:19