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Pettersson: Symphonies, No. 7 and 11 Import

5.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Import, October 12, 1994
$39.99 $9.62

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Editorial Reviews

Allan Pettersson (1911-1980) is one of the main influences in the music of Leif Segerstam, so it makes perfect sense for Segerstam to conduct Petterrson's symphonies. Pettersson was able, in his early symphonies, to maintain at once a sense of thematic drive as well as a dark presentiment of atonal forces. Tricky, but both Pettersson and Segerstam--in his own symphonies--pull it off. The Symphony 7 (1968) contains rough moods, dark clouds, with brightness (on the flute and woodwinds) peeking in here and there throughout. The Symphony 11 (of 1974) is full of polyphonic shifts and syncopations that sweep the listener along. --Paul Cook
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Leif Segerstam
  • Composer: Allan Pettersson
  • Audio CD (October 12, 1994)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: BIS
  • ASIN: B0000016IY
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,130 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Mark Shanks VINE VOICE on June 6, 2000
Format: Audio CD
The reclusive, crippled Swedish composer Allan Pettersson once wrote, "When will the angel come and restore the song sung by the soul, so simple and pure, that a child will stop its weeping?" With this remarkable work, I believe he achieved his aim.
Certainly the most well-known and most frequently performed of all of his symphonies, Pettersson's Seventh was dedicated to Antal Dorati, whose recording of it brought the world's attention to the reclusive composer. If the Sixth is a dark and desperate cry ending in resignation, the Seventh is the "song sung by the soul" that Pettersson sought so yearningly to reveal.
The symphony's origins are not clear. The work was premiered on October 13, 1968 in a concert for the Music for Youth series founded by Antal Dorati in cooperation with the Stockholm Philharmonic. Pettersson, in very poor health, was called to the podium with standing ovations four times after the work's conclusion. It was the last time he was able to personally attend a premiere of one of his symphonies. Some hear it as a "reconsideration" of the bleakness of the Sixth; others have compared its structure to the arch formed by the profile of a mountain range. Many members of the audience at the premier were in tears at the close of this remarkable work. Once again, Pettersson uses a roughly 40-minute single movement. Unlike earlier symphonies, this one is not as clearly divided into sections, but uses recurring themes throughout.
Leif Segerstam's recording with the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra on BIS (CD-580) is the longest one at 46:17. Frankly, I prefer the kind of "punch" Segerstam uses to emphasize the lines, and the intensity of emotion is never in question.
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Honestly, you shouldn't hear any of Allan Pettersson's sixteen symphonies first on a recording. There's too much orchestral color and too much dynamic range, from pianissimo to forte, to be technically compressed and squeezed through speakers or headphones. This is true, of course, about all great modern symphonic composers, but in Pettersson's case, the problem is that his works are almost never performed by orchestras in the USA, and those fans who rave about his work - take a peek at the reviews here on amazon - are flabbergasted at his lack of recognition. So CDs are the only recourse, and this CD, recorded by the less-than-well-known Norrköping Symphony, is acoustically as good as one could possibly hope.

Pettersson is essentially a conservative tonal composer, but his tonality is stunningly overlain with passages of polytonality, just as his steady moderate tempi are overlain with quirky polyrhythms. Occasionally there are suggestions of twelve-tone composition, but don't let it worry you; you won't hear them as such unless you are trained in musical theory. What you will hear is a dense swirling texture of instruments and percussion, a soundscape mostly of shimmering beauty but occasionally shaken by bursts of unsettling tumult.

A composer of beautiful surfaces? A composer of anguished depths? Pettersson was a Swede, and perhaps because I'm another, I hear a lot of landscape in his music, the same sonic boreal forest and tundra that I hear in Sibelius, Rautavaara, Norgard, or Lindberg. What sounds dark and foreboding to other listeners, I suspect, sounds like over-the-snow-to-grandmother's-house to me, so largely I hear Pettersson's music as beautiful surface. Emotional response to music is very subjective.
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Pettersson's Seventh symphony is an enormously moving and cathartic work. I am tempted to call it a masterpiece, but that word is so overused nowadays that it is all but meaningless. Certainly it is a work of the very highest artistic quality, and as good a symphony as any Shostakovich ever wrote. At about 35 minutes into the recording, a long and beautiful quiet passage begins in the strings. Almost inaudible in spots, it is like the still, small voice of God speaking to humanity through an obscure and rejected vessel. And truthfully, from his written statements, P. considered himself to be more of a prophet than a composer. He conceived his mission as being a spokesperson through his music on behalf of the outcasts of society with whom he identified. Whether or not he really succeeded in this endeavor, we cannot say. But we are truly indebted to him for the legacy of his music, which speaks with such brutal honesty to those who "have ears to hear".
While there are a number of recordings of this work available, I bought this particular one based on reviewer Mark Shanks' recommendation. I was not at all disappointed with this recording. As usual, the BIS engineers do a superlative job. It's too bad, however, that this recording is not indexed into tracks at the various "turning points" in the score, as has been done on Alun Francis' recording of the Ninth on the cpo label. This would have allowed one to revisit places in the recording much more easily. But that is my only complaint.
The Eleventh symphony is an added bonus to this disc. Clocking in at only a little more than 20 minutes, it is perhaps the shortest of P's symphonies. It possesses a multi-faceted canonical structure. Beginning in a very mild-mannered way, beautifully lyrical and atonal, rather atmospheric and ethereal, slowly the work grows more menacing and uncontrolled, without losing its ethereal nature, until it eventually takes on sinister proportions, then slowly subsides.
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