Allan Pettersson’s Symphonies 4 & 16 – Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg with Jörgen Pettersson [BIS]

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Allan Pettersson
Symphony No.4
Symphony No.16*

Jörgen Pettersson (alto saxophone)*

Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Christian Lindberg

Recorded January 2013 at Luis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden

Also included is a DVD, Who the hell is Allan Pettersson? – a 1974 interview for Sveriges Television AB (52 minutes)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: August 2015
CD No: BIS-2110 [CD/SACD]
Duration: 65 minutes



Christian Lindberg and the Norrköping Symphony continue their Allan Pettersson cycle with this coupling of the Fourth and Sixteenth Symphonies; works separated by two decades that none the less confirm the consistency of the Swedish composer’s approach to symphonic writing.

On one level the Fourth Symphony (1959) became a defining piece in the transition from the confrontational Modernism of the Second to the fractured Romanticism of the Sixth. After the unsatisfactory accommodation with four-movement orthodoxy of its predecessor, the present work reverts to a continuous span (only the two-movement Eighth being a future exception to this rule), its principal ideas being the furtively fragmented texture heard from the outset and the chorale-like theme which emerges almost incidentally some three minutes in. These ideas constitute an ‘exposition’ that is nominally repeated before a lengthy ‘development’ centred on the first idea, followed by a varied two-stage reprise then a coda in which an encroaching calm is brutally denied prior to the terse cessation.

Lindberg maintains an intent momentum across the 37-minute span as a whole: while not seamless (hardly appropriate in so volatile a work), then appreciably more integrated than the relatively episodic and often rough-edged version from Alun Francis which remains this work’s only previous commercial recording.

The Sixteenth Symphony (1979) has a chequered history. Pettersson’s last completed work (only the drafted Viola Concerto and fragmentary Seventeenth Symphony were to come) it was initially judged a failure on account of the alto-saxophone’s frequent inability to project through or above the orchestra. Subsequent readings have often ‘edited’ the former’s part so as to extend its compass and give it greater presence within the texture as a whole, yet even this concertante approach arguably misses the point of music in which a relatively restricted saxophone part becomes an extension of the woodwinds; underlining and also articulating the salient melodic aspects without ever assuming an overtly soloistic function.

Such is Jörgen Pettersson’s approach as he and Lindberg strive – successfully – to reconcile the frenetic and cantabile elements on the eventful course to a peacefully fatalistic end. By comparison, Frederik L. Henke’s reading is bracingly haphazard and John-Edward Kelly’s re-conception of the saxophone writing has a textural consistency at odds with this highly equivocal piece.

As previously in this series, the SACD sound brings depth and clarity as elucidates even the most assaultive passages, and Per-Henning Olsen contributes a booklet note that largely (and not unwisely) avoid analytical comments. Once again there is an accompanying DVD – here featuring a 1974 interview with the composer for Swedish Television. Unlike the documentary included with the previous instalment (the Ninth Symphony), said interview was done at a specific time and place –with Pettersson overcoming any initial inhibition to give a combative and engrossing overview of his life and music (this latter gradually becoming the former), enhanced by photographs and newsreel footage. The lingering image of a composer defiant while never self-pitying is attested by these two Symphonies.

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