Monday, March 28, 2011

Symphony No. 4 (1958–1959)

Pettersson’s Symphony No. 4 marks the end of his “early” period, which consists of the works written during the 1950s. To me it seems that Pettersson reached the peak of his early powers with his Symphony No. 2 and Seven Sonatas but then took a few steps back with his subsequent works (Symphony No. 3 and Concerto for String Orchestra No. 2, and this work). It wasn’t until the Symphony No. 5, which I consider to be one of his best symphonies, did Pettersson really begin to refine his symphonic style.

Although the Symphony No. 2 is now my favorite of the early symphonies, before I began this survey I considered the Symphony No. 4 to be superior, at least in terms of its surface accessibility. Although there are many things about this piece that don’t quite work, it is emotionally much more effective than the Symphony No. 3 and is interesting in itself as a transitional work between his early orchestral style and the Symphony No. 5, where he began to take a different direction.

In this work Pettersson makes painfully obvious, by his own standards at least, the struggle between darkness and light, conflict and peace. Throughout the work there are lengthy lyrical islands, often sullied by dissonance, while the more aggressive sections are often cut off abruptly by blaringly bright motives from the lyrical islands. Although it seems clear what Pettersson’s intentions are, the end result often comes across as unwieldy and clunky. The Symphony No. 4 had its premiere on 27 January 1961 with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Sixten Ehrling.

The work begins with held notes on upper woodwinds, suggesting F# minor tonality. This doesn’t last long, as the oboes stick in a G and Bb, taking the music into another harmonic direction. The violins tentatively introduce a rhythmic idea, spanning a minor third. This interval and this rhythmic idea will become crucial elements of the entire piece. The opening section is filled with short, nervous outbursts: a galloping idea from violas, upward shrieks from violin, xylophone and piccolo, and glissandi from the low brass.

After a brief recap of the opening chords the music arrives at a D pedal. Although Pettersson does not indicate in the score a tuned gong, the gong in the CPO recording (the only one currently available) sounds like Bb to me, creating a sense of anticipation, like the Bb is trying to resolve. The rhythmic/intervallic idea soon takes over the musical landscape, creating a sense of increasing desperation: the second violins play the same pitches repeatedly (F-Eb-D), while the  first violins play the inversion, and continuously ascending (Gb-Ab-A, Bb-C-Db, and so on).

At the conclusion of the opening section Pettersson takes us to a warm lyrical island, a much different world than what came before. Although I cannot detect any direct quotes from his Barefoot Songs, this section is definitely song-like; it almost sounds like it could be part of the Mesto from the Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra or the Violin Concerto No. 2. Wrong notes soon find their way into the landscape, although I think Pettersson did a much better job with this in the Symphony No. 2

The next stretch is, in my opinion, pretty weak. After a brief return to the D pedal, the early rhythmic idea comes back, this time featuring tritones. This idea gets thrown around for a while, followed by another rather weak section featuring extremely angular woodwinds, xylophone, and upper strings, interrupted by long silences.

After a return to the lyrical island Pettersson introduces one of my favorite ideas of the symphony, a variation of the rhythmic/intervallic idea, this time descending over a threatening low C drone. The music becomes increasingly agitated. A devilish section with rapid upward woodwind licks and piercing piccolo follows, leading to another lyrical island, this time of decidedly mournful character.

A little more than halfway through the work, after introducing another threatening variation of the minor third motive, Pettersson sets up his first real climax. Up to now, the intervallic idea of the third has, as far as I can tell, been restricted to the minor. With percussion, high woodwinds and upper strings pushing the music desperately forward, the lower register of the orchestra repeatedly stomps out a major third, pitch by pitch: D-F#, perhaps suggesting that the order imposed thus far is breaking down. A high trumpet soars over the orchestra (was Kalevi Aho thinking of this in the third movement of his Symphony No. 10?), continuing the music’s frantic push to catastrophe. The D-F# in the lower register continues, but now the solo trumpet asserts itself on a high F natural, pitting the major-minor directly against each other. As the music calms down the D pedal comes back briefly, as does the D-F# idea. This soon resolves back to the minor. A fragment of the warm lyrical island appears in the flute and piccolo.

The low C drone comes back, this time even more menacingly. The music quickly builds up to a shattering, anguished climax, before fading to darkness on the same low C.

The next section comes as a bit of a surprise. Pettersson now introduces another lyrical island, this time movie-music sugary, although a little bittersweet at the same time as well. This section is violently interrupted by an outburst from the full orchestra. Several of the gestures heard in the beginning of the work are reprised. The violins play a transposed B-A-C-H, the lyrical island tries to make an appearance, blindingly so, before the music quickly builds to perhaps the most devastating and cataclysmic climax in all of Pettersson’s music thus far. The music then simply begins to die away. The opening F# minor chord is played again, then the lower instruments bring the piece to a close: first F, then a long Eb, over which B-A-C-H is played a few times, and finally a low D. However, once Pettersson reaches D, the piece ends suddenly—there is no resting on the resolution.

As I mentioned at the beginning, despite the many awkward or clumsy stretches in this work, there really are some nice things going on. Compared to his earlier symphonies, here I get the impression that Pettersson is starting to think in longer strokes, looking at the big picture and elaborating more on the journeys to his destinations, as opposed moving around nervously between seemingly endless variations of a basic motive. In the Symphony No. 5 Pettersson takes this to the next level, effectively building tension over long stretches, while still restricting himself to working with pretty much just one interval. It is also worth noting that, coincidence or design, Symphony No. 5 begins on the note D, the same pitch which ends this symphony. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Recordings: Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra

Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra
Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss
Johannes Goritzki, conductor
CPO 999225

Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra
Nordic Chamber Orchestra
Christian Lindberg, conductor

Mesto (from Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Stig Westerberg, conductor
SCD 1012

According to the CPO liner notes, in the score (which I unfortunately do not have at this moment) Pettersson specifies a total performance time of approximately 49 minutes. He even takes this one step further, giving extremely precise timings for each of the individual movements: I, 14:10; II, 24:43; and III, 9:17. Funny enough, even though Pettersson specifies pretty unequivocally what he wants, none of the recordings discussed below strictly adhere to the composer’s intentions.

I really wish I could be more enthusiastic about CPO cycle of the string concertos—after all, it was the first digital cycle of these works, in a convenient two-disc package with excellent liner notes. Probably the most problematic issue with this recording is Goritzki’s approach to central Mesto movement—which is long enough as it is. Goritzki takes an almost interminable 29:13 with this movement, which is almost 5 minutes longer than Pettersson’s indication. The repeated notes, which play such an important role here, particularly in the transitions to the lyrical islands, sound like walking in place or in circles. Lindberg and Westerberg, on the other hand, use the repeated notes as means of arriving at a destination; they have a clearer sense of direction.

I’ll concede that Gortizki’s strings are fuller, richer, and have more direct presence, which pays dividends particularly in the many passages of intense yearning. However, this approach sometimes backfires. For example, listen to the passage for solo strings in the Mesto movement. Here we have music of painful simplicity, of purity. In Goritzki’s hands it sounds like his band has just come back from a recording of Strauss’ Metamorphosen or something—they just sound too rich and buttery for this music.

Lindberg’s take with this music is, unsurprisingly, similar to his earlier efforts with these same forces in the first two string concertos: extremely polished playing, great ensemble, clarity, and a bit of emotional distance. This approach works quite well in this piece, with its relatively lighter textures and somewhat detached lyricism. Compare this with the results Lindberg achieved in the Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra, which sounded too tame and unabrasive.

In the 1st movement, Lindberg shaves off about a minute compared to Goritzky, and this makes a noticeable difference, as the music in this movement really needs to move a bit (I really wonder what this would sound like if someone took Pettersson’s timings literally). Even though the passages of great yearning don’t work quite as well with Lindberg’s detached approach, overall this movement just feels more cohesive compared to the Goritzki’s slower tread. 

It really is a pity that Westerberg did not record more of Pettersson’s large orchestral works. I have been very impressed with everything I have heard of his thus far, and comparing the three versions of the Mesto movement I will have to say that Westerberg takes the prize. He finds the perfect balance between fullness of sound, necessary for all those passages of yearning (I’m guessing the SRSO has more strings compared to the competition), while maintaining a certain amount of “pure information” objectiveness.  One moment worth special mention is the passage for solo strings—Westerberg has the front desk players play without vibrato, with pure tones almost reminiscent of early music. I was completely blown away when I first heard this; it just seems ideal for Pettersson’s message here: consoling, detached, heartbroken, purifying, all at the same time. Although Westerberg did not record the whole piece, you must hear his take on this movement. 

Guest blog entry: Mark Shanks

Dear Readers,

I am very excited to introduce what I hope to be a series of guest "essays" on the subject of, you guessed it, Allan Pettersson. Mark Shanks is the author of the Pettersson pages at and this resource was, and continues to be, a major online source of free English language Pettersson information. Mark has very kindly agreed to share his thoughts on Pettersson for this blog. Enjoy!

P.S. If you would like to write an entry of your own on this blog, please leave me a comment and we'll get in contact with each other!

Allan Pettersson’s Music

Mark Shanks

I was introduced to Allan Pettersson’s music by a very short review of the Dorati recording of his Seventh Symphony in a 1975 edition of the long-gone magazine Stereo Review. The piece was part of an article on Scandinavian composers, and was written by one of their better critics, David Hall. It pointed out the similarities to Mahler and Sibelius, and concluded that the author found the symphony “vast, brooding, and strangely exalting”. Of course, in those days you didn’t have the instant gratification of downloading a piece of music. I was a senior at the US Air Force Academy, and had to wait until my next trip home to Detroit before I could find a copy of that recording.

The Academy was probably the best place imaginable to listen to Pettersson. The air is thin, and the dorms are literally jammed up against the spine of the Rockies, the Rampart Range. In winter, the clouds cover the highest peaks and create the impression of a cyclopean wall and ceiling. My room faced north, so I had the view of the mountains extending to the horizon. There are no colors in winter – just shades of gray. Cadet life was miserable, but I was a “Firstie” – I’d be graduating that spring. 

I always transferred LPs onto a cassette, because the records had a nasty tendency to get scratched or dirty, and I hated to have some “pop…..pop…..pop” intrude on the music. In false thriftiness, I recorded the Seventh onto a 45-minute cassette, replicating the sides of the LP on each side of the tape. That meant I’d hear one half of the symphony more often than the other. In this case, it was the second half that I fell in love with – the islands of consolation, the music that will “still the crying of a baby”. It was dark music, certainly darker than anything I’d ever heard by Mahler or Sibelius, but you could feel that this was real. It came from Pettersson’s heart, and it wasn’t despondent. There was hope, and life, and affirmation.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t find anything written about Pettersson. There was absolutely nothing in the cadet library, and the folks in the Denver and Colorado Springs record stores had never heard of him. I couldn’t understand – here was a Seventh symphony by someone who spoke so clearly to me – how many did he compose? The Schwann catalog had no other recordings of anything by him – what was the story? I listened, and the music was indeed brooding, the view vast and bleak, but together, strangely exalting. I would graduate and be free, and become a pilot.

After graduation and while on leave back in Michigan, I came across a small pamphlet-type magazine called Fanfare. In it, there was an article by Paul Rapoport on….Allan Pettersson! Finally, some information. But even better, there was an ad for a record importer featuring a recording of a different Pettersson piece – the Concerto #1 for String Orchestra, paired with Lidholm’s cantata Nausicaa Alone.  Now I was set – I had a potential source for more Pettersson. New recordings came maddeningly slowly. The Symphony #2. The Mesto, the first recording of his music, was filleted away from the body of the Concerto #3 for String Orchestra. And like a Grand Prize, Okku Kamu’s recording of the Symphony #6.

By this time, I had finished pilot training and was stationed in California, with an assignment to Loring AFB, in extreme northern Maine (think Caribou). I drove across the country in February 1978 to the haunting sound of the Sixth, with its nearly half-hour coda and slow, agonized trail to a sunrise.  For over a week I drove through stark winter landscapes, snow-covered fields and then from Michigan into Canada, taking the Trans-Canadian to my crossing point at Limestone. I can’t convey the effect the drive with its melancholy soundtrack had.

After all these years, Pettersson’s music still resonates for me. (However, I’ll add that I miss anything indicating that perhaps he didn’t always take himself and life a bit too seriously.) My favorite quote of his is,"I wasn't born under a piano, I didn't spend my childhood with my father, the composer…no, I learned how to work white-hot iron with the smith's hammer."  No hot-house orchid he! I find his story truly inspiring. From where did he get idea he could play the violin and viola? Like Mahler, I believe Pettersson saw himself as "always an intruder, never welcomed", forever an outsider. Unlike Mahler, Pettersson’s family was anything but supportive. (I would certainly welcome an English-language biography.) Like Havergal Brian, he came from working class parents and had to elbow his way into the music world, and like Brian, he seemed to be hard to approach and quick to take offence. His banning the Stockholm Philharmonic from playing his music because they’d dropped his Seventh from their traveling program seems altogether a typical reaction.

I doubt that I’ll ever hear Pettersson’s music in concert, at least, not in Portland. It’s unfortunate that the musical “outsiders” such as Pettersson, Brian, Charles Ives, and others don’t get performed as much as the warhorses of the repertoire, but at least we now have recordings, more than I expected to ever see when I first heard the Seventh over 35 years ago. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra (1956–1957)

The Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra is the pinnacle of Pettersson’s three works in this form, and is arguably the most ambitious statement of his works from the 1950s. In terms of length, it is longer than any of his previous symphonies or the first two string orchestra concertos put together. In this work, Pettersson begins to find a balance between the neurotic, nervous energy of his early works (such as the Seven Sonatas) and unhurried lyricism.

While there is no denying the magnitude of Pettersson’s achievement in this work, in some ways I feel that Pettersson needs the full aural resources of the large modern orchestra to do justice (take his writing for percussion and horns, for example) to his expressive needs, particularly over such a large canvas. This work was commissioned by the Swedish Radio, and the premiere took place on 14 March 1958 at a Concerts for New Music series led by Tor Mann.

The first movement, Allegro con moto, embodies the conflict between music of neurotic, nervous energy and heartbreaking lyricism. The movement opens with an upward thrusting gesture of assertive nature; the first three notes are played unison for extra emphasis, with violins alone taking over afterwards. This opening theme is actually a tone row, although this piece is by no means a serial work. Pettersson explores this opening idea for a while, then introduces a rapid turn-like figure, which subsequently gains a foothold in the musical landscape. As the movement progresses, Pettersson’s trademark repeated notes are found in abundance. These repeated notes morph into the first lyrical island of the movement, which is filled with grief and a deep sense of yearning. Here Pettersson stays mostly within the given tonality, unlike the lyrical islands in Symphonies No. 2 or 4, which are peppered with “wrong notes.”

Leaving this lyrical island we enter a section featuring a series of brief cadenzas for solo violin, flanked by passages of busy contrapuntal textures for the full ensemble. As the music calms down to ruminations in the low strings, a drawn out downward scale (based on the earlier solo violin cadenzas) takes us into the next lyrical island. This one is similar to its predecessor, with a clear sense of yearning, but with an even deeper sense of sadness.

Swirling, ascending figures shake us out of this lyrical island. At about the two-thirds point in the first movement, Pettersson recaps the opening theme, but repeated notes take the music in a different direction. The music picks up momentum, reaching a passage of dizzying energy, marked by upward glissandi. Another passage of yearning, this time particularly strained, leads into a mournful cadential figure. Pettersson then repeats this gesture—music of yearning followed by the same mournful cadential figure, in the same tonality. Here I am reminded of the 10th movement of Shosty’s Symphony No. 14, where Shostakovich repeats this terribly depressing, life-is-not-worth-living-anymore cadential figure three times, each time in the same tonality (more Shosty is coming, see below).

The second movement, Mesto, is the emotional core of the work. At approximately 25 minutes, this movement is about the same length as the outer movements combined and is sometimes played in concert as a separate piece (this movement was supposed to be played in Stockholm this spring). To my ears Pettersson alternates between two kinds of music—the opening song of sadness, and later on, a song of affirmation or salvation, maybe of hope. However, as expected with Pettersson, these surface descriptions are probably inadequate for all the things that are being expressed.

The movement begins with violins quietly intoning the opening song. Pettersson does not waste any time, however, in introducing elements of conflict. Deep tones from the cellos and basses, accompanied by repeated notes, lead to the first appearance of the song of affirmation. We just get a glimpse of this song for now, as a repeated note figure with a tritone leap moves the music to another direction. Shadows of the song of affirmation return, at the same time the music assumes a vaguely threatening tone, picking up momentum. Solo strings enter the landscape, with the solo violin taking an important role. Repeated notes introduce the song of affirmation, but again, just for a glimpse. The opening chord is briefly recapitulated, before leading into music of strained passion. As the music calms down, solo strings re-enter, this time in a passage of heartbreaking simplicity and purity. The sense of yearning is clear, but a shift to minor tonality robs the music of any great apotheosis at this point.

The song of affirmation returns (again introduced by repeated notes), this time it is given a chance to more fully express itself. A sense of hope and calmness takes over, before the song restates itself, this time with greater intensity. A passage of ponticello playing and sighing minor seconds take us away from the song. The tritone motive reappears, and soon takes over the musical landscape.

The opening song is recapitulated, this time with great intensity and feeling. Nasal open E strings from the violins create a disturbance, and subsequent large leaps from the violins try to push the music to another direction. As the music reaches a cadence, listen to the quote from Shosty’s String Quartet No. 8. The opening song comes back, again with great intensity and feeling. Nasal opens E string again disturb the proceedings. A passage of grief follows, soon building up to great agitation. The song of affirmation comes back, but again that E takes the music to another direction. This gesture is soon repeated.

In the coda of this movement, the music tries to find a way to resolve but continually frustrates itself. Eventually the song of affirmation is found, this time without the E, and the song is allowed to breathe. However, a solo viola (?) ends the movement with a question mark.

In the final movement, Allegro con moto, Pettersson further explores the material introduced in the first movement. The introductory gesture is a clear variation of the first movement opening. However, the music soon explores other paths, in particular passages of busy and angular contrapuntal writing. Ghostly, shadowy textures, reminiscent of the Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra, are heard. A brief passage of grief is repeated several times, but is taken over by music of an insistent nature (listen to those F#s, for example). The ghostly textures return, elaborating on the opening gesture. After an even more insistent exploration of the opening gesture (particularly on a lick based on 16th notes), the music finds itself in D minor, but with a brief flash of D major. D minor soon reasserts itself, and over a long D pedal the upper strings offer commentary, as the music fades into silence.

As much as I admire this work, after this recent reevaluation I am still not completely convinced—there is a degree of long-windedness and unnecessary repetition. I find it strange that Pettersson’s most successful works of this period are also the earliest, namely his Seven Sonatas and Symphony No.2. There is a lot of nervous contrapuntal writing in this work, but when dealing with the somewhat more limited sound-world of strings only, in my opinion compact and concise packaging works better, such as in the Seven Sonatas. Pettersson’s beautiful and heartbreaking lyrical islands, of which there are plenty of in this work, seem to work better in the later symphonies, where I feel like one truly “earns” these moments after a protracted struggle. We still have one more symphony to go before getting to Pettersson’s middle period, starting with the Symphony No. 5, where Pettersson really starts to find, and refine, his unique voice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Symfoni No 6 i Norrköping!!!

Last summer I spoke to Christian Lindberg very briefly after his performance of the Symphony No. 7 in Cologne. We spoke about future performances in his Pettersson series, and he said the Symphony No. 6 was next. Of course I was extremely excited, but I was hesitant to mention it here because one never knows how these things work out.

A huge thanks to Alexander Keuk for getting in contact with the people at the Norrköping Symphony and getting the CONFIRMATION for these performances. Check it out here.

In case the German intimidated you, here is the summary: 3 November in Norrköping, 4 November in Linköping. Be there. Be there!  

UPDATE, 17 March 2011: These performances are now listed on Gehrman's website. It looks like this is really happening! Christian Lindberg still needs to update his website...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Recordings: Concerto No. 2 for String Orchestra

Just like the Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra, this piece has done surprisingly well on disc, even though this piece is, similar to its predecessor, anything but popular. What I would give for a third recording of the Symphony No. 6 (Mr. Lindberg?).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I find this piece less than convincing as a whole, and I have found it rather difficult to put together a meaningful comparison of the recordings available. I guess in my young “career” as a classical music writer I’m not sure how to compare performances of music that do not entirely click with me.

Nevertheless, I encourage readers to explore this work and share their comments. Here goes…

Concerto No. 2 for String Orchestra
Nordic Chamber Orchestra
Christian Lindberg, conductor

This really is a tough one. Similar to their performance of the Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra, I think Lindberg and the NCO are almost victims of how good they are. This performance is highly polished and very well played. However, given the relative reduction in conflict in this music (and isn’t Pettersson all about conflict in the orchestral works?) I wonder if Lindberg’s approach is just too “nice.” This is especially apparent in the 1st movement, which to me almost sounds like it was played with classical-era lightness and transparency. The fragile beauty of the 2nd movement is sensitively executed in Lindberg’s hands (just listen to the pianissimo he gets from this band). In the 3rd movement Lindberg does start to dig in a bit, giving the music gruffness when required. Among the three recordings here, his Bartokian folk dance probably comes off the best. In the lyrical sections Lindberg also does well here, which is unsurprising given the high level of polish he brings to this music.

I cannot comfortably say that Lindberg’s take on this music really rises above or falls below his competition. As you will see below, each conductor brings particular strengths to this music, which differs from the others. Keep reading…

Concerto No. 2 for String Orchestra
Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss
Johannes Goritzki, conductor
CPO 999225

Unlike the performance of the Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra by these same forces, here Goritzki does dig in, making this music sound more “Petterssonian” than it actually may be. For example, listen to how the cellos attack the F#-C-B-F# lick (1:17) in the first movement, which allows a greater contrast when the same gesture is repeated shortly after. The 2nd movement goes as well as Lindberg’s take. The 3rd movement, surprisingly, doesn’t work for me here. For one thing, Goritzki takes the longest compared to the others, and this movement lasts too long to begin with. Despite the fact that Goritzki isn’t afraid to dig into this music, his folk dance actually seems pretty tame compared to Lindberg.

Concerto No. 2 for String Orchestra
Musica Vitae
Petter Sundkvist, conductor
Caprice CAP21739

Although Sundkvist brings a similar level of polish to this music as Lindberg, one thing which really sticks out in this performance is the timing. It is hands down the quickest performance compared to the others (Sundkvist shaves off at least a minute and a half in the 2nd movement), which is a good thing considering how this music can sound unfocused at times. In the orchestral literature there are pieces which just need to be played short and sweet, and this approach yields dividends here.

Take the 2nd movement for example. Although there is an elusive beauty to this movement, and one may want to savor the many harmonic turns and subtle dissonances, the music does meander a bit. Here Sundkvist doesn’t waste any time and conducts as if the whole movement is just a giant prelude to that wonderful final resolution. The 3rd movement also benefits from this approach, although I wouldn’t mind him going a bit faster, but I can understand that the lyrical sections do need room to breathe.

Overall, I think Sundkvist has a slight edge here over the competition, but the other options mentioned above do adequate justice to this work, which is not necessarily Pettersson’s most inspired.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Concerto No. 2 for String Orchestra (1956)

By the time Pettersson wrote this piece he already had a fair amount of experience composing in large forms for orchestral forces—two completed symphonies (three if you include the first) and the Concerto for String Orchestra No.1. However, unlike the completed symphonies and the concerto, Pettersson had to wait over a decade for the first performance. In the summer of 1967, Pettersson was awarded a work scholarship from the Swedish Building Workers’ Union. In gratitude, the composer dedicated this piece to the union, as he had nothing else suitable at the moment. The premiere took place in December 1968 by Stig Westerberg and the Swedish Radio SO, just weeks after the successful premiere of the Symphony No. 7.

I find this concerto to be rather elusive compared to the other two, and after repeated listening this piece has grown on me a bit. Regardless, at this point I would readily take the other concertos over this one. One particularly striking feature of this concerto compared to the previous one is the lack of surface tension. Whereas the music in the first concerto always seemed to be in a state of conflict, Pettersson seems concerned with other issues here. One hears development and repetition of motives and rhythms, but not nearly to the same brutal insistence as say, the Seven Sonatas.

This work has a performance time of approximately 27 minutes, and like the other two concertos, is divided into three movements. The first movement, Allegro, begins with a downward angular gesture from the violins. Immediately after we get some Petterssonian repeated-note motives, but not of the violently insistent variety. Listen carefully and you can hear shadows of the coda of the opening movement of Sibelius’ icy Symphony No. 4. We are taken to a small lyrical island followed by chamber-music textures by solo strings. A song is heard among the busy counterpoint.

The second movement, Dolce e molto tranquillo, has a cold, distant beauty to it. Fragile pianissimo lines slow weave between each other in a shifting web of resolutions and quietly grinding dissonances. The final resolution to Eb minor (followed by a rather surprising morph into Ab major) is both beautiful and effectively done.

In the third movement, Allegro, Pettersson turns up the conflict meter, but also gives us plenty of rich lyricism. I hear a little Shostakovich (to me I hear the third movement of the Symphony No. 15) and also in the repeated major triads towards the end (String Quartet No. 3? Last movement of the Michaelangelo suite?). Listen for the gruff, rustic Bartokian folk dance. And of course, many listeners will notice Pettersson’s near direct quote of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Immediately before this one can also hear the opening gesture from Barber’s Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings, which was actually written over two decades later (Could Barber have known about Pettersson??? Nah.) Unfortunately, this movement doesn’t sound very cohesive to me, and it does overstay its welcome a little, despite the many beautiful and interesting moments.

All in all, I find this work to be less than entirely convincing compared to the rest of the composer’s output. Nevertheless, as ANY Pettersson is worth your time, I encourage you to listen to this work and decide for yourself.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vouz parlez Français? Ou vous pouvez lire Français?

Special thanks to Jean-Christophe Le Toquin for this one.

Like another knife to the heart of us anglophone Pettersson fans, here is yet another great non-English Pettersson resource at, a French classical music website. Armed with my rusty French skills (several years of high school French, and a month living in Strasbourg studying at the Alliance Française) and my favorite French-English internet dictionary, here I go...