Sunday, November 3, 2013

Norrköping 2013: Concert Review!

I am not sure if my non-American readers know of the children's story called The Little Engine That Could. It is basically about a small engine who managed to pull an entire train over the hill. Larger, stronger engines refused this task, leaving it to the small one. As the small engine struggles to climb to the top of the hill, he never gives up, repeating to himself "I think I can, I think I can." I had this image in my mind while listening to this Norrköping SO concert featuring not one, but two Pettersson symphonies. As you probably know by now, the NSO is not just performing Pettersson regularly, but they will also record the rest of the symphonies not yet recorded for BIS. The larger, stronger "engines" (uh, let's call them the Göteborgs SO and RSPO and SRSO) have refused, but here the little engine steps up and accomplishes the task which others think is impossible. 

On to the concert then. The evening began with the Symphony No. 16, a work which I still feel is quite elusive and not as effective as its predecessors. I was quite impressed with the orchestra, who seemed to be more comfortable with this extremely busy and densely scored music when compared to the Symphony No. 4. The soloist, Jörgen Pettersson, was in complete control of this music and put passion and energy into every note. It really does make a difference when Pettersson's markings and dynamics are followed literally, which is what happened here. Bravo!

The fast and loud music (such as the first and third sections) were visceral and exciting and the slow music was beautifully played, but I still cannot get into this piece. I have no doubt in my mind that when the recording is available, it will be the most convincing argument to date for this work. 

On to the main course, the Symphony No. 4. In my opinion this is, at least on the surface, one of Pettersson's most accessible symphonies. However, it feels like a transitional work between his early and middle orchestral styles. Although the orchestra seemed to struggle a little in the morning rehearsal the evening performance was in a different league. During the concert, I could feel the intensity of concentration and the results were a testament to this orchestra's professionalism and commitment. It goes without saying that Christian Lindberg lives this music and his conducting reflects this. 

I was a little surprised how empty the hall seemed--I think the performance of the Symphony No. 9 last year was better attended. However, it is quite likely that the people who were present really wanted to be there, and they listened with the requisite concentration. The response was very enthusiastic for both symphonies.

I heard that the orchestra had only three rehearsals for this program. Although the performance felt like a work still in progress, convincingly performing two Pettersson symphonies on one program is superhuman, and Christian Lindberg and the NSO should be praised for their incredible physical and emotional stamina. While I felt that the performance of the Symphony No. 6 two years ago also felt like a work in progress, we all know how absolutely amazing and enlightening the recording is. I have no doubt in my mind that when this program is released on CD the results will be equally stunning.

Way to go guys! 

PS. Some extra details: for the Symphony No. 16 the performance time was about 27 minutes, Pettersson marks in the score 25 minutes.
For the Symphony No. 4 the performance time was about 38 minutes, Pettersson marks in the score 35 minutes.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this review. I also was present at the concert and it was certainly worth the trip from England; the reference to 'the little train' is very apt. Well done, indeed, Norrkoping SO, Christian Lindberg and the NSO management. BRAVE programming! (I'm tired of seeing so many 'populist' concerts of the Rossini Overture / Beethoven Piano Concerto / Tchaikovsky Symphony type). This was a concert at which you really had to use your ears and where many 'dangers' were undoubtedly present but were all brilliantly overcome. True commitment by all concerned and worthy of real admiration.

    Knowing the two recorded versions of Symphony 16, one of which adheres exactly to what Pettersson wrote and the other which transposes up certain saxophone sections so that they are more easily heard above the orchestra, I think that I prefer the latter BUT, surely, we really need to hear what was offered by the soloist, Jörgen Pettersson, at this concert, namely what Allan Pettersson composed. I did not find the fast sections 'comfortable' listening but this is not easy music for those without 'inside' knowledge, perhaps, and I have no inside knowledge other than a love for Pettersson's music overall.

    The 4th Symphony suited me very well. I like and am getting to love this work and the perhaps-difficult opening was so well paced that I knew at once that it was going to be a fine performance of the work. It made immediate sense, with Lindberg having a clear view as to how it should sound: complex but with all the strands and lines well managed and understandable. After the first 'complex' section, the typically beautiful melodic lines of Pettersson sounded through wonderfully. And so it progressed; it is that typical AP journey that asks lots of questions but does not give any obvious answers. The ending is, for me, too abrupt and disappointing. Even with the score on my lap listening to a recording, seeing AP's work on the page, I just want a bit more of a feeling that he has really finished rather than abandoned the work. Nevertheless, I still feel that I have had my usual deep and meaningful journey, albeit a less deep and meaningful one than in the 'great' works from No 6, onwards. It was a privilege to hear the work 'live'.

    I will await the BIS recording of 4 and 16 as eagerly as I have the whole cycle so far. BRAVO Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra! You make my year's concert-going exciting. It is the only concert that I feel I MUST go to.