Pettersson: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 Review

by Illiam Sebitz

Allan Pettersson is viewed as one of the most significant Swedish composers of the 20th century. Although his symphonies did not develop a dedicated worldwide following until the final decade of his life, Pettersson’s reputation grew because of his musical characteristics, strong contrasting shifts between colossal intensity and quiet relaxation, between complex dissonant passages and simple harmonious melodies and harmonies. The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Christian Lindberg are widely regarded as the leading Pettersson interpreters of our time and have captured the strong contrasts of Pettersson’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. The recording is a part of Lindberg’s list of recordings to complete Pettersson’s symphonies cycle for BIS, for The Allan Pettersson Project 2013-2019, a joint project with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. This is the tenth recording in their Pettersson series, and it maintains the high standard already set. The recording has seventeen tracks and is excellently recorded, and beautifully conducted by Lindberg with outstanding playing by the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, especially the 7th Symphony.

The 5th Symphony gives us sonic assurance that Pettersson was a modern romantic, think Mahler with a darker hue and more attention to the subtle pulse. Here, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra performs the music with passion and authority. Lindberg’s direction is excellent, and he certainly builds a strong case for being the authority of Pettersson’s music. With the 5th symphony, Pettersson’s writing is emotive of his own voice, but one can still hear Sibelian influences. Compared to the 7th Symphony, there is not as much romantic thematic development. Hearing these two pieced together though is an outstanding pairing and takes the listener on a music journey of colors, emotions and strength that is seldom heard.

The 7th Symphony starts off quietly, with a dark hue to the music Pettersson builds the motif with methodic mastery. Lindberg does a great job with the clarity of the simultaneous polyphonic lines and the balance of the intensity and density of orchestration during the climaxes. Another triumph of this recording is Lindberg’s ability and understanding of the role the pulse plays in Pettersson’s music. The unrelenting dirge must be brought out and felt in its emotive element, this gives space for revealing Pettersson’s dark, brooding melodic lines and harmony. Pettersson uses a single movement, the music is not as clearly divided into sections, but uses recurring themes throughout. The harmony is clearly conservatively tonal, but with stunningly superimposed passages of polytonality. Pettersson’s marked steady moderate tempi are adhered to and his quirky polyrhythms are clearly played and conducted.

The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Christian Lindberg have again created another impeccable Pettersson interpretation. Lindberg’s depth of understanding of the music and how to clearly convey the notes on the pages musical expression is stunning. The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra’s balance and execution is technically brilliant and emotionally charged. Highly recommend.

Tracks to sample first: Both Symphonies are composed as one musical statement and need to be heard as such. First choice is the 7th Symphony. The one to take a chance on, although not a big one , is the 5th Symphony.




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Illiam Sebitz
Illiam Sebitz

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