On record – Ensemble SYD / Daniel Hansson – Pettersson: Vox Humana (CPO)

*Kristina Hellgren (soprano), *Anna Grevelius (mezzo-soprano), *Conny Thimander (tenor), */**Jakob Högström (baritone), *Musica Vitae, */**Ensemble SYD / Daniel Hansson

Pettersson
Vox Humana (1974)*
Six Songs (1935)**

CPO CPO 999 286-2 [69’26”]

Swedish texts and English/German translations
Producer Stephan Reh
Engineers Hakan Ekman & Gunnar Andersson

Recorded 26-27 May 2019 at Palladium, Malmo

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The CPO label moves a step closer to recording the complete works by Allan Pettersson with this disc of his major non-symphonic choral work Vox Humana, coupled with the first outing for an orchestration of the Six Songs which is almost this composer’s earliest surviving opus..

What’s the music like?

After prolonged illness (and hospitalisation) at the start of the 1970s, Pettersson’s priorities as a composer changed somewhat; his relatively succinct Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies being followed by the choral Twelfth, setting Pablo Neruda, then the present cantata such as makes explicit his empathy with the socially and politically oppressed through settings of poems by mainly Latin-American authors. Despite its 50-minute duration, Vox Humana is for the most part subdued and understated in its tone – with, moreover, a focus on the salient ‘message’ of those tests which recalls his approach in the wartime Barefoot Songs that constitutes his first notable statement. This is reinforced by accompaniment for strings whose reticence seems a world away from the charged and confrontational manner pursued in most of his symphonies.

Formally the cantata divides into three separate parts. The first of these consists of 14 songs after Latin-American workers’ poetry, mostly reflections on the hopelessness of those being depicted and of the injustices meted out to them on a continual basis. The second part takes in three even briefer songs after old Indian poetry, here rendered in music which reduces the sentiments expressed to barest essentials. The third and final part consist of a single, ballad-like setting of a poem by Neruda, whose death in 1973 pre-dated by mere months the brutal military takeover in Chile and so makes the ecstatic longing of his words the more poignant. It forms a fitting culmination to this work, though even here Pettersson is mindful never to overstate the emotional fervour of convictions with which he was undoubtedly in sympathy.

Does it all work?

Yes, in that the restraint and often folk-like simplicity of these settings is its own justification. It helps when the performers are evidently attuned to this music, Jakob Högström leading the way with his authoritatively eloquent baritone and Anna Grevelius underlining her claims as among the leading mezzos of her generation.

Soprano and tenor may have considerably less to do, but Kristina Hellgren and Conny Thimander both make the most of their contributions. Daniel Hansson secures a thoughtful response from Musica Vitae and Ensemble SYD alike.

The other recording of Vox Humana dates back 43 years and was one of the first recordings issued by BIS. Stig Westerberg was among Pettersson’s surest advocates in the composer’s lifetime and his account lacks nothing in commitment, nor the sound for clarity or realism, yet the greater perspective of this version does tip the balance in its favour. The coupling, Pettersson’s Six Songs as arranged with strings and harp by Steffan Storm, is itself more apposite in confirming the human dimension of this composer’s music from the beginning.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The booklet has full Swedish texts alongside English and German translations, with detailed notes by Andreas Meyer (though some of his discussion seems to be missing from the English text). Those unfamiliar with Vox Humana need not hesitate to acquire this disc.

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For more information on this release visit the Presto website

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