Allan PETTERSSON (1911-1980)
Symphony No. 13 (1976) [66:16]
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. January 2015, Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden
Reviewed as 24/96 download from
Pdf booklet included BIS BIS-2190 SACD [66:16]
This is the latest instalment in the ambitious Allan Pettersson
Project, in which conductor Christian Lindberg and the Norrköping SO
aim to perform and record all of their compatriot’s symphonies.
It’s a truly comprehensive enterprise that includes performing
editions of Pettersson’s unfinished First and Seventeenth symphonies.
I’ve already reviewed 1,
2, 6 & 9 in this series; these have impressed me a great deal,
not least for the musicians’ commitment to this often daunting
repertoire. All credit to BIS too, for their support of modern/contemporary
Nordic and other composers; that’s a courageous position in good
times for the industry, let alone in these straitened ones.
There’s another set of Pettersson symphonies, recorded by CPO
between 1984 and 2004; according to Rob Barnett it’s well worth
a listen. At around £50 for 12 CDs it’s also very good value.
No doubt BIS will issue their own box at some point, and at a competitive
price. Both cycles are shared between different orchestras and conductors,
which is not always ideal; that said, Lindberg and the Norrköping Symphony
bring to their performances a coherence, a consistency of artistic vision,
that’s very persuasive indeed. As a bonus the sound on these BIS
recordings ranges from excellent to superb.
In his detailed liner-notes Per-Henning Olsson reminds us that Pettersson
kept faith with the symphony at a time when many composers believed
the genre was dead or, at the very least, dying. Even then his symphonic
break-through only came in 1968, with the premiere of his Seventh Symphony.
That belated recognition was most welcome, but the composer’s
battle with rheumatoid arthritis was just beginning. By the time he
wrote the Thirteenth Symphony the disease had made his life very difficult
indeed. Are these works a mirror of his pain? Perhaps, but I’d
suggest they're more about a steely determination, an indomitable spirit,
than a chronicle of increasing adversity.
Granted, this symphony is not an easy listen – it plays continuously
for more than sixty minutes – but after the dissonant outbursts
at the start it settles down somewhat. Remarkably the writing is at
once whole and fragmented, new and old; there’s an underlying
lyricism – hard won, though – and a wonderful array of colour
and incident. As with the other symphonies the Thirteenth is dense and
highly virtuosic, and this band – who gave the work its Swedish
premiere as late as 2014 – play fearlessly throughout. As for
Lindberg he keeps the listener firmly focused; indeed, without such
fierce advocacy and skill it would be easy to imagine the symphony imploding,
overwhelmed by the heat at its core.
There’s no shortage of variety, either; those surprisingly jaunty
rhythms, rattling side drum and guttural plosions are powerfully projected.
As for the recording – masterminded by Take5’s Hans Kipfer
and Jens Braun – it has a dynamic range and level of detail that’s
frankly stunning. That said, this probably isn’t the place to
start your exploration of Pettersson’s symphonies; I’d suggest
newcomers try one of his earlier ones – the ultra-compelling Ninth,
perhaps – and take it from there. Even then these are works that
inspire respect rather than affection; also, they demand your total
concentration if they’re to make any sense at all.
An intense, proselytizing performance, superbly recorded; not for the
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