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Pettersson: Symphony No 9 / Lindberg

Pettersson / Norrkoping Sym Orch / Lindberg
Release Date: 02/25/2014 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 2038   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Allan Pettersson
Conductor:  Christian Lindberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PETTERSSON Symphony No. 6 Christian Lindberg, cond; Norrköping SO BIS 1980 (SACD: 59:50)
PETTERSSON Symphony No. 9 & Människans röst (documentary) Christian Lindberg, cond; Norrköping SO BIS 2038 (SACD + DVD: 70: 11 + 81:40) Read more

Swedish composer Allan Pettersson (1911–1980) did not have a happy life. Born in Stockholm into a poor family, his father by all accounts, was a brutal, violent man who was beset by alcoholism. According to the composer, his childhood was spent in virtual servitude in his father’s blacksmith shop: “I wasn’t born under a piano, I didn’t spend my childhood with my father, the composer....No, I learnt how to work white-hot iron with the smith’s hammer. My father was a smith who may have said no to God, but not to alcohol.” Pettersson did not even begin his formal musical training until 1930, when he enrolled in the Stockholm Conservatory at the age of 19. His adult life was plagued by illness. In 1953, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an affliction from which he would suffer the rest of his life, and by the early 1960s his mobility was severely curtailed and his general health was in rapid decline. None of this would be relevant if the torment and anguish he had to live with on a day-in, day-out basis were not so palpably reflected in his music.

Pettersson composed his Sixth Symphony from 1962 to 1966 at a time when his health had reached a particularly low point, and it is perhaps with this work that he most honestly and brutally expressed the emotions he had felt his entire life up to that date. Set in a long, sprawling (just short of an hour) single-movement structure (as are most of his symphonies), the Sixth Symphony is arguably Pettersson’s most tragic work in the symphonic or any other genre. Long mournful and elegiac passages are juxtaposed with music that is decisively angry and defiant in tone. The thematic material is angular and resolutely un-tuneful, the harmonies unabashedly dissonant with very little repose, and the rhythms create a feeling of anxiety and agitation. Tension is created but not often released. The music encompasses the entire spectrum of negative human emotions, yet for all of its expression of torment, anguish, misery, and suffering, this is extremely powerful and achingly beautiful music. Listening to this performance had an unsettling and disturbing effect on me, one that I had not experienced in my previous encounters with this music. It made me think of times of sadness and grief in my own life; of times when I had hurt others and of times when others had hurt me. It made me think of loved ones and friends who are no longer with me, and of the feelings I never expressed to them. And in doing so, it made me appreciate the happiness I now enjoy all the more. This work may not provide the most uplifting listening experience, but this is very moving and powerful music that reaches out and grabs you on a very basic emotional and visceral human level. It is thought-provoking and profound, and there’s certainly not much of that going around these days.

The Ninth Symphony of 1970 was composed at a time when the composer was dealt yet another blow to his health, this time kidney disease. Though undiagnosed at the time the work was written, the composer’s suffering must have reached a new level. Unlike the Sixth or most of Pettersson’s previous symphonies, the Ninth—also cast in one long (70 minutes) movement—is comprised almost entirely of fast music. This is not to imply that it is a happier work. To the contrary, if anything the Ninth Symphony is an even more agitated and restless work than the Sixth, and is decidedly more angry and defiant in tone. It is if the composer is shaking his fist at the fates that have dealt him such a cruel hand and imbued his life with such misery. Structurally, the work is actually very clear-cut and economically conceived despite its vast length. The melodic material, based on a simple chromatic pattern, is subjected to a wide variety of symphonic treatments, including a volatile fugue and a series of ingeniously conceived variations. Again, the melodies are angular and the rhythms nervous and frantic but this time the composer contrasts his usual dissonant harmonies with those that are more tonally based. Tonality ultimately wins out, but not without having to put up one helluva fight. In the end, Pettersson seems to be proclaiming his own hard-fought victory over adversity.

Pettersson’s music has actually benefitted from quite a large number of distinguished recordings, including previous recorded versions of these two works. My first exposure to Pettersson’s music was from a Deutsche Gramophon LP of his Eighth Symphony by Sergiu Comissiona conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (a powerhouse performance that is sadly no longer available). Antal Doráti also leads a spectacular rendition of the Seventh Symphony with the Stockholm Philharmonic on the Swedish Society Discofil label. Other notable champions of Pettersson’s music include Leif Segerstam, Alun Francis, Stig Westerberg, and Herbert Blomstedt.

The performances on these two BIS discs are like the music itself, intense and powerful, and can stand with the very best. Accolades must be given to the orchestra; this is fiendishly difficult music and performing it must be like running an emotionally and physically wrenching marathon. One might quibble for more tonal strength in the strings, but overall the orchestral playing is magnificent. Trombonist-turned-conductor Christian Lindberg, Pettersson’s latest advocate, shapes the two works masterfully, wringing every last drop of emotion out of the music. The disc containing the Ninth Symphony also comes with an accompanying DVD— Vox Humana: The Voice of Man , a well-made and interesting documentary on the composer. It is well worth watching, especially by those not previous familiar with Pettersson or his music.

This is not music I will listen to on a regular or even semi-regular basis; it’s just too intense. But it is music I will return to periodically when I feel the need to shake up my emotional comfort level. Powerful stuff.

FANFARE: Merlin Patterson
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 9 by Allan Pettersson
Conductor:  Christian Lindberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1970-1972; Sweden 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Stunning Pettersson April 2, 2014 By Joseph Lieber, MD (Great Neck, NY) See All My Reviews "Of all the composers of the 20th century Pettersson is clearly one of the most tragic, despondent and depressing. Raw emotion comes through in his great symphonies such as number 6, 7 8 and here number 9.The playng by the Norrkoping is tense as it should be and the conducting squeezes out after last bit of grief.To explore Pettersson start off with symphony number 7 and than this one, number 9. And please don't forget the Barefoot Songs.Any lover of the symphony should here this sprawling one movemnet masterpiece!" Report Abuse
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