If the First Symphony is disregarded, then the Symphony No. 2 stands as one of the most startling orchestral premieres of the second half of this century. Pettersson remarked that he composed it, "behind the back of Leibowitz." This work was composed in 1952-3, and sets the familiar mold for a Pettersson symphony: a monolithic block of over 40 minutes, marked by contrasting tempos, snarling brass, and stamping percussion. This is a difficult work, with brief melodic passages constantly assaulted by chaotic and violent outbursts. Much of the writing for strings is reminiscent of the Concerto #1 for String Orchestra.
There are now two recordings of the Pettersson 2nd. The older is on Swedish Society, SCD 1012, with Stig Westerberg conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Coupled with it is the Mesto for String Orchestra, which is the slow movement from Pettersson's Concerto #3 for String Orchestra. The symphony was recorded in 1966, but the sound is quite acceptable if prone to congestion in the frequent, intense outbursts.
CPO has released a new recording (CPO 999281-2) with Alun Francis conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Francis must now be recognized as the most prolific of Pettersson conductors, with recordings of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 9th, and 13th under his belt, all for cpo. This recording is coupled with the Symphonic Movement from 1973. It was recorded in June, 1994, and all of the sonic shortcomings in the Swedish Society disc are here rectified. The performance itself is more tense and is somewhat longer at 46:23 to Westerberg's 42:20. The cpo booklet and liner notes would have you believe that the symphony is indexed into six sections but these are not separate tracks, as they are on some other cpo recordings. I prefer the cpo recording, both for it's performance and for the additional bonus of the previously unavailable Symphonic Movement.
Copyright © Mark Shanks, 1996