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Gustav Allan Pettersson

Symphony #7 (1966-67)

"When will the angel come who restores the song to the soul, so simply and clearly, that a child will cease it's weeping?"

- Allan Pettersson

Certainly the most well-known and most frequently performed of all of his symphonies, Pettersson's Seventh was dedicated to Antál Doráti, whose recording of it brought the world's attention to the reclusive composer. If the Sixth is a dark and desperate cry ending in resignation, the Seventh is the "song sung by the soul" that Pettersson sought so yearningly to reveal.

The symphony's origins are not clear. The work was premiered on October 13, 1968 in a concert for the Music for Youth series founded by Antál Doráti in cooperation with the Stockholm Philharmonic. Pettersson, in very poor health, was called to the podium with standing ovations four times after the work's conclusion. It was the last time he was able to personally attend a premiere of one of his symphonies. Some hear it as a "reconsideration" of the bleakness of the Sixth; others have compared its structure to the arch formed by the profile of a mountain range. Many members of the audience at the premier were in tears at the close of this remarkable work. Once again, Pettersson uses a roughly 40-minute single movement. Unlike earlier symphonies, this one is not as clearly divided into sections, but uses recurring themes throughout.

There are four recordings of the Seventh available. The original, the one that secured the composer's reputation worldwide, is played by the Stockholm Philharmonic, conducted by Antál Doráti. It was recorded nine months after the premiere, September 18-20, 1969, in the Stockholm Concert Hall, and has been released on numerous LP labels. Still available on Swedish Society CD SCD 1002, it is, at 40:00, the shortest recording. It has, of course, the stamp of authentic emotion and commitment, if not the clearest sonics. However, I have found at least one serious shortcoming: at the phrases beginning on page 68 of the score (20:08 on the Doráti CD, and 23:37 on the Albrecht, 22:24 on the Segerstam, and 21:11 on the Comissiona), the trombones are completely silent or absent. The horns are doubled by the cellos and, in a slightly different rhythm, the clarinets and bass clarinet (in the score). I have no information on what happened: the engineer may have goofed, or Doráti may have made a decision to back them off. Imagine listening to this recording for twenty years, and then hear the horns for the first time in a new recording! As an historic document, the recording is invaluable, but newer recordings have supplanted it. At it's length (and with no coupling) and skimpy notes, it is no bargain.

The cpo recording is with the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerd Albrecht, recorded in a live performance in the Hamburg Music Hall on May 6, 1991. Albrecht's reading, at 44:38, is the second longest reading (CPO 999190-2). This was the first non-Doráti recording I heard, and my first impression was one of intense concentration, as if one were walking a tightrope. (And, as I stated above, I was quite surprised to hear the horns at 23:37!) Albert's is an acceptable if not outstanding version; it has the best booklet, hands down, but as with the Doráti, no coupling and that makes it sort of a luxury purchase, particularly at cpo's price.

Leif Segerstam's recording with the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra on BIS (CD-580) is the longest one at 46:17. Frankly, I prefer the kind of "punch" Segerstam uses to emphasize the lines, and the intensity of emotion is never in question. The sound is easily the best of the four (it was recorded April 29-39, 1992 in the Linkoping Concert Hall), and it comes coupled with the only recording (at the time of writing) of the Eleventh Symphony (an irresistible 7-11!). Some (Paul Rapoport) find the brass overpowering in places, and some passages may be taken too slowly to sustain the music's power. But this is certainly a contender for your purchase dollars; you need only consider if this is the ONLY recording for you.

And finally, my first choice would be the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sergiu Comissiona on Caprice (CAP 21411). Comissiona clocks in at 41:58, only marginally slower than Doráti, but with a lyricism that immediately captures your ear. The brass in not overwhelming, but makes it's necessary impact in the central section, and the sound is excellent for a live recording (October 1990 in the Berwald Concert Hall). This CD was produced from a benefit for the 40th anniversary of the Swedish Cancer Society, which may partially explain the bizarre coupling (Mozart Bassoon Concerto, K.191). Documentation is fairly skimpy, especially considering the status of the conductor and the author of the liner notes for what should have been a release of some greater significance (first recording after the historic Doráti).

Copyright © Mark Shanks, 1996

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