The Eighth is unusual in that it is, as is Schubert's Eighth, divided into two movements. It is probably the most immediately accessible of the Pettersson symphonies, and if it does not carry the profundity of expression that mark the Sixth and Seventh, it is my recommendation for the most rewarding introduction to Pettersson's symphonic expression. Completed in 1969, it was not premiered until February 23, 1972, by the Stockholm Philharmonic under Antál Doráti. The first movement, just over 20 minutes in length, contains, "the longest, most exposed form of sheer, undestroyed, unattacked melody in all of Pettersson's output". But even here, the threat is ever-present and eventually breaks through and begins the struggle for the soul that is so typical of these symphonies. The second movement, just over 30 minutes, ends movingly in the resolution of the crisis with repeated cadences reminiscent of hymns or choruses.
de of first place (and first recording) goes to the Sergiu Comissiona version, issued on Polar POLS289 (LP) and later on Deutsche Grammophon (DG) 2531-176. Comissiona conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, recorded 27 and 31 October 1977, with Robert Woods (of Telarc Records fame) as the recording supervisor. If at all possible, this is the version to have. The first movement (21:26) fits on the first side of the LP; the second (30:31) is split at "4 bars after 7 in the score" to fit without LP side compression distortion; Polar informs us, "This division has the composer's approval". Not only is the recording quality exemplary of the best of the analog era, the performance is definitive: Pettersson himself heard a radio broadcast of Comissiona's performance, and "declared the interpretation was ideal, and said the broadcast tape could be used to master a commercial recording". Well, thank goodness the studio technicians were brought in! There is no lack of fire, but the basic mood of this work is broader than that of the preceding symphonies. The Baltimore Symphony plays extremely well, and Comissiona's vision into Pettersson's world is at its most convincing.
The cpo version (Thomas Sanderling conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, CPO 999085-2) was recorded live on 30 April 1984. (Curious that we had to wait 10 years for this to be issued….) It is a fine performance in it's own right, and features the usual exemplary cpo documentation.
There is a version on Orfeo, with the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerd Albrecht, recorded in a live performance in the Hamburg Music Hall on May 16, 1994, that I have not heard. It's timing is just one second short of the Comissiona at 51:56.
Copyright © Mark Shanks, 1996