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


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

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.



For more information on this release visit the BIS website

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

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.


For more information on this release visit the Presto website