Sunday, August 5, 2012

Recordings: Symphony No. 14

Symphony No. 14
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Sergui Comissiona, conductor
PS CD 12

Symphony No. 14
RSO Berlin
Johan Arnell, conductor
CPO 999 191-2 

We are fortunate enough to have two recordings of this amazing work, which are derived from what I would guess have been the only live performances (does anyone know if there were other performances) of this work: the world premiere and the German performance captured by CPO. Comissiona recorded this work for Phono Suecia on 3-4.12.81, several days after the presumed premiere, and the CPO disc is taken from two performances on 7-8.5.88. While having two recordings is almost always better than one, I personally think that the CPO recording is not competitive when compared to Comissiona’s incredible performance, but I at least one reviewer prefers the CPO.

A major difference which jumps out right away is tempo. Both performances are considerably faster than what Pettersson himself indicated in the score (52 minutes) but Arnell (46:56) is quite a bit faster than Comissiona (48:09), especially in the first half of the symphony. I don’t really think this helps the musical argument, especially when the song comes in. For the sense of strain and deep yearning to come through, one really should take their time here, and that doesn’t really happen with Arnell.

While Comissiona’s tempos give this music the breathing room it needs, the RSPO just sound phenomenal here. The violins briefly have some issues lining up the sextuplets in the opening section, but after that the violins, and strings in general, play amazingly. Special mention must be given to the horns—extremely important in Pettersson’s orchestral works—as they not only have the accuracy but the power to cut through the orchestra. Listen to the horns in the final push in their frothing-at-the-mouth triplet runs. It’s quite an experience. Percussion also have increased presence, and the timpani have the extra bite which is not found in the CPO.

Christian Lindberg, when can we expect to hear your take on this piece?

1 comment:

  1. Not sure how you could prefer the Comissiona recording to the Arnell.