ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Allan Pettersson - Chamber Music

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ALLAN PETTERSSON - Chamber Music - Yamei Yu (Violin) - Andreas Seidel (Violin) - Chia Chou (Piano) - Leipzig String Quartet - 760623152820 - Released: June 2011 - MDG 3071528

September 19, 2011, will mark the centenary of the birth of one of Sweden's most intriguing and enigmatic artistic figures, the composer Allan Pettersson (1911-1980). A composer whose sheer will and determination to master his craft led him to write seventeen symphonies, most of which are complex and massive one-movement works, the Symphony No. 7 in particular being, in my opinion, one of the best musical efforts of the 20th century. Every time I hear it, I can't help but walk away with the feeling that something strange and expressively profound has just happened. It lingers in the mind long after its audition. His music always sounds new, but yet never loses touch with the past and paradoxically seems to reach back 100 years.

Most of the pieces on the present recording, were written, as if in preparation, before he even composed the first of his numerous symphonies. The Two Elegies for violin and piano from 1934 that open this new CD, may not display his advanced and refined harmonic language of later years, but they do possess the same darkly expressive nature of the mature Pettersson. The following Sonatas for 2 violins, Nos. 2, 3 and 7 on the other hand, could be considered experiments in sound, string playing technique, and harmonic expansions, all meant to improve his writing skills for the challenges to come. And the pièce de résistance on this CD, the Concerto for Violin and String Quartet from 1949, points the way towards Pettersson the symphonist. Who else but a hyper-creative mind like his would even conceive of such a grouping. The central slow movement in particular defies this pairing and thanks to Pettersson's acute sense of proportions, sounds like much more than the sum of its parts. It also points towards Pettersson the micro-manager, the composer that paints vast canvases out of seemingly insignificant motifs. It ends in typical ominous and foreboding fashion. The final movement exacts high demands on both the soloist and the quartet, for technical as well as expressive aspects in the writing. The quartet players in particular are sometimes required to produce some rather unusual effects. I must say that the members of the Leipzig String Quartet have always impressed me with their musicianship and seamless character shifts from one composer to the next, and here again get within the music and project the composer's intense expressive nature clearly. This work, by the way, was the first by this composer to be performed in public in 1951. And I might be wrong, but I believe this might be its world première recording.

Music well worth investigating by a highly devoted composer who went from selling Christmas cards to buy his first violin, to writing large scale symphonies that leave an indelible impression on those who stop and listen. Thanks to commited classical music labels like MDG, we the listeners can't help but benefit from new recordings of neglected or hidden masterpieces like these. The executives at MDG deserve plaudits for shedding more light on the music of Allan Pettersson.

Jean-Yves Duperron - June 2011