On record – Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Christian Lindberg – Pettersson: Symphony no.12 ‘The Dead in the Square’ (BIS)

pettersson-12

Swedish Radio Choir, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Christian Lindberg

Pettersson
Symphony no.12 ‘De döda på torget’ (The Dead in the Square) (1973-4)

BIS BIS 2450SACD [55’40”]

Producer Hans Kipfer
Engineers Stephan RehMathias Spitzbarth

Recorded March 2019 and January 2020 at Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköpping

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Christian Lindberg (presumably) concludes BIS’s Pettersson cycle, with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, with the Twelfth Symphony – featuring poems by the then recently deceased Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in what is a typically unflinching statement of intent.

What’s the music like?

When he began the work, Allan Pettersson had not written for voices in almost three decades and his accepting a commission from Uppsala University for its 500th anniversary was never likely to result in a celebratory paean. To Swedish translations of nine poems from the Canto general collection by Pablo Neruda (1904-73), he created a continuous structure whose texts are not so much set as fashioned into a stark melody line (the choral writing almost entirely in rhythmic unison) as articulates the work’s musical evolution as surely as its emotional impact.

Although not charting any systematic evolution, the Twelfth Symphony does pursue a definite trajectory. The first and longest section, The Dead in the Square, follows its short yet active orchestral prelude with an ominous rendering of the tragedy being related at Santiago on 28th January 1946. Other than establishing an atmosphere of unrelieved anxiety, this also sets out the essential musical parameters of choral writing that does not attempt to ‘clothe’ the textual imagery so much as define and propel the musical content. Hence the smouldering desolation of The Massacres as follows an eventful orchestral interlude (used subsequently to comment on and/or anticipate these choral sections), then the stealthy evoking of human degradation in The Men of the Nitrate and the increasingly wretched imploration of the workers in Death.

The work’s emotional (if not temporal) mid-point arrives with the single stanza of How the Flags were Born, whose fleeting while unmistakable promise of change is intensified in the fervent roll-call of departed heroes in I Call on Them then the accusatory righteousness of The Enemies which is duly made the emotional fulcrum of the overall design. The ongoing struggle is vividly evoked through the hectic onward motion of Here They Are before past, present and future are drawn together in Always – bringing with it the most contemplative music of the whole work prior to the final outburst of defiance. A reminder, also, that Chile was in the process of succumbing to fascist rule even while Pettersson completed this work, whose ricocheting climactic chord of C must have appeared an ever more distant prospect.

Does it all work?

Yes, when as purposefully marshalled and cumulatively shaped as it is here. The pioneering account by Carl Rune Larsson (Caprice) has comparable emotional force but relatively little inner clarity, while Manfred Honeck’s version (CPO) – featuring the same choirs – evinces more character in individual sections but less sure a grasp of its ongoing structure. Precisely because of the way texts articulate content, those who are coming anew to Pettersson should find the piece an ideal way into its composer’s combative and unequivocal musical mindset.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Anyone unfamiliar with the work should certainly opt for this new recording, whose sound and annotations are fully on a par with earlier instalments in this Pettersson symphony cycle. Live performances outside of Sweden will hopefully become more frequent over time.

Stream

Buy

For more information on this release visit the BIS website

On record – Ulf Wallin, Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Christian Lindberg – Pettersson: Violin Concerto no.2 & Symphony no.17 (BIS)

Ulf Wallin (violin); Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Christian Lindberg

Pettersson
Violin Concerto no.2 (1977, rev. 1980)
Symphony no.17 (1980, ed. Brylka/Lindberg)

BIS BIS 2290SACD [61’06”]

Producers Martin Nagorni (Violin Concerto), Hans Kipfer (Symphony)
Engineers Fabian Frank (Violin Concerto), Stephan Reh (Symphony)

Recorded January 2017 (Symphony) and January 2018 (Violin Concerto) at Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköpping

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Christian Lindberg continues his traversal of Allan Pettersson’s symphonic output with the Second Violin Concerto, coupled with a first recording of all that the composer left of what was likely to be his Seventeenth Symphony in a performing version co-edited by Lindberg.

What’s the music like?

Coming in the wake of his volatile and combative Thirteenth Symphony, Pettersson’s Second Violin Concerto (following a Concerto for Violin and String Quartet of 28 years before) was commissioned then premiered by Ida Haendel, though it seems likely to have been conceived beforehand.

The taxing and almost continuous solo part often subsumed into the orchestra, so making it more a ‘symphony for violin and orchestra’, with an inverted virtuosity such as the composer made no attempt to temper. He did, though, overhaul the texture after the premiere in 1980, allowing the soloist more definition against the orchestra – its undivided violin part in particular – but without lessening the music’s intensity in any way. The outcome, it hardly needs to be added, is a violin concerto that is conceptually and emotionally unlike any other.

Although (here) playing for some 53 minutes, the single movement falls into several distinct sections which are duly followed on this disc. Thus, a lengthy ‘exposition’ proceeds from an impulsive first thematic group to its expressively more yielding successor that draws on the 14th from Pettersson’s war-time Barefoot Songs (‘The Lord walks in the meadow’), whose plaintive irony underlies much of what follows. An almost equally extensive ‘development’ is largely taken up with the opening themes, before a distilled ‘reprise’ of the second group then an extended ‘coda’ (marked Cantando) in which various motifs are freely combined on the way to a conclusion whose wistful poise became a feature of the next two symphonies – the music audibly intent on making peace with itself while admitting no false consolation.

The fill-up is the draft of what Pettersson presumably intended as his Seventeenth Symphony (but this is not so indicated on the manuscript), here given its first recording in a performing version edited by Markus Brylka and Christian Lindberg. Playing for almost seven minutes, its atmosphere of fraught anticipation rather looks back to the composer’s symphonies of the 1960s – albeit from the more equivocal perspective of his last years. The absence of further sketches makes its evolution impossible to guess, but what does exist is undeniably arresting.

Does it all work?

Yes. Ulf Wallin is a violinist of the first rank yet never self-conscious or self-regarding as a virtuoso and is accorded unstinting support from the Norrköping musicians, with Lindberg predictably authoritative in his direction. Ida Haendel’s 1980 account (Caprice) features the original orchestration and remains a compelling if undeniably historical document, whereas Isabelle van Keulen’s 1999 recording (CPO) makes a convincing case in more concerto-like terms. Those coming to the piece for the first time should certainly opt for this new account.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The sound is well up to the high standard of previous releases from this series in clarity and spaciousness, and there are informative notes by Per-Henning Olsson. Just the choral Twelfth Symphony to come in what has been a rewarding and often revelatory cycle.

Stream

Buy

For more information on this release visit the BIS website