Pettersson: Symphony No. 14

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COMPOSERS: Pettersson
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Symphony No. 14
PERFORMER: Berlin RSO/Johan Arnell
CATALOGUE NO: 999 191-2 ADD
How do you begin to describe the Swede Allan Pettersson (1911-80)? One of ‘four children of an alcoholic and violent smith and a pietistic, weak mother, who grew up in the slums of Stockholm… Orchestral violist, composer, oddball. A man whose music evades all attempts at labelling… a fighter’, says Andres KW Meyer in his booklet note. For Pettersson himself: ‘The music forming my work is my own life, its blessings, its curses – in order to rediscover the song once sung by the soul.’

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Between 1951 and his death from cancer, Pettersson completed 16 symphonies and a fragment of a 17th. Only in his late fifties, with the advocacy and recording of No. 7 (1966-67) by Antal Dorati, did he find international fame and belated recognition at home. Like No. 8 (1968-69) and No. 14 (1978), the scale of the Seventh is Brucknerian, a huge single-movement edifice, highly complex in organisation. The Eighth spans two sections – akin to Schubert’s, it has been suggested. But Pettersson is afraid to stop ‘because when the music ends, this dreadful world is there again’. No. 14 is about ‘a music that in its alternation between gentle oscillation and sudden outburst seeks to mirror our own life in its dualistic position between resignation and hope’ (notes to the German premiere, May 1988).

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Spacious recordings from concert performances strong in commitment. Sample them. These great, lonely, visionary, testaments of our time have to be heard. Ates Orga