Monday, June 20, 2011

Recordings: Symphony No. 9

Symphony No. 9
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Alun Francis, conductor
CPO 999 231-2

This will be a pretty short review, as CPO has the only currently available recording of this piece. From what I know, there was another recording of this work conducted by Sergiu Comissiona, which is worth talking about briefly.

There seems to be some confusion about the proper duration of this work. According to the score, Pettersson indicates a performance time of approximately 65-70 minutes, and Francis is on the slow end of this—just under 70 minutes. Comissiona’s recording, on the other hand, was apparently close to 90 (!) minutes. Although I imagine that Comissiona prepared the performance and recording with the composer’s input, I don’t see this piece working at such tempos. For a piece with this level of repetition to be played convincingly, it needs to move.

Anyhow, as expected with Francis’ contributions to the CPO cycle, the playing is nothing less than very good—in this case one must commend the DSO Berlin for valiantly overcoming the unending (and oftentimes terribly ungrateful) technical challenges this piece presents. However, unlike Francis’ earlier symphonies in the cycle, such as 2-4, the recorded sound here is rather distant and lacking in impact. For example, there are several passages where the cellos and basses strings saw and hack away in their lower register—I would like to hear strings slapping fingerboards and a bit of gruffness as the rosin flies into the air. Maybe that’s how it would have been live, but I’m guessing that the mikes were placed too far away for that to register. Or what about those brass enunciations (4 measures before rehearsal 154), which should be Brucknerian room-filling walls of sound, but instead come across a bit too timid.  

These are minor quibbles for an achievement that should not be underestimated--Francis and his Berlin band have done a superb job. As Segerstam never got around to this piece in his BIS cycle I eagerly await to hear Lindberg’s results. (BTW, when is his recording of the Symphony No. 2 going to come out?!)

4 comments:

  1. The Comissiona recording of No 9 can be acquired using the torrent at
    http://www.btloft.com/torrent/Allan_Pettersson_-_Symphony_No_9_-_Commissiona.mp3.torrent

    You may think it slow, but I prefer it. The symphony is difficult, but Comissiona "gets it." I am unable to say the same about Francis, but he was likely constrained by max recording time.

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  2. Comissiona takes a little over 80 minutes as far as I recall. I am considering uploading it again as a single file on YouTube. I have read eleswhere that Comissiona spent 2 weeks rehearsing it, and that the orchestra was not able to cope with a faster tempo. I certainly cannot agree that this applies to the last 8 minutes. At the end of this very long journey, it seems we must lie down on the desert sands and stare up at the stars of the Universe. The feeling that Comissiona creates in this conclusion cannot be put into words, and it can't be rushed, for it describes timelessness. Francis loses that feeling completely: it is reduced to the level of an academic exercise. I regrettably have not yet heard Lindberg, who apparently has followed the composers declaration that his music is not about anything, but just pure information. But information about what?

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  3. Michael, thanks for your comment.

    I do recommend that you give Lindberg's recording a listen. It is making minor waves in the classical music world and is continues to receive accolades and positive press.

    What is special and perhaps paradoxical about Lindberg's take is how he brings out the work's "pure information" better than anyone else. How does he do this? By following the score literally, and by bringing out every little orchestrational detail.

    But what is the "pure information" that Pettersson is talking about? I think this answer is different for each listener. This is one of the dichotomies of Pettersson, and one of the things that keep brining me back to the composer.

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