Pettersson; Ruzicka Orchestral Works
Between them, the ongoing Pettersson cycles on BIS and CPO account for most of the completed symphonies (only Nos. 10 and 16 are unissued; Nos. 1 and 17 survive only as fragments), across nearly all stages of his 30-year symphonic career. That career fell into four phases. Nos. 1-5 (1951-62) charted the gradual emergence of his mature style, which was developed and extended by the next four, probably still his best-known works, culminating in the enormous Ninth (1970 – CPO, 9/95). The succeeding works from No. 10 onwards moved in new expressive directions, at first more intense – as in Nos. 12 (1974 – Capriccio) and 13 (1976 – CPO, 3/94) – later relatively relaxed and accessible, as in No. 14 (1978 – CPO, 10/94).
The core of Pettersson's reputation rests ultimately on the second and third phases (Nos. 6-13), so these two new CPO discs are invaluable in shedding light on where those more familiar symphonies came from and led to. The Third (1954-5) is a most unusual design for this composer in being in four movements (indeed the Eighth of 1968-9 is the only other Pettersson symphony not cast in a single span). Internally, the movements are highly unorthodox structurally and one can hear foreshadowings of the later designs as if in miniature. None the less, the Third works in this outwardly conventional format well enough to make one regret that Pettersson did not repeat the experiment.
In No. 4 (1958-9), Pettersson took a significant step towards his more recognizable style (though as in No. 3, the personal voice is immediately distinct). The Fourth is a fascinating work, its textures more fractured than is usual with Pettersson, the expressive world intentionally out-of-focus and haunted. CPO's clearly recorded performances of both are very decent and together make a good introduction to this much-misunderstood composer.
Symphony No. 15 dates from 1978, just two years before Pettersson's death, and is of the less combative, more affirmatory character first heard in No. 14, though the Fifteenth's opening and closing passages might seem to contradict this. No. 15 also contains an uncharacteristic passage allegedly unplayable at the designated speed. Peter Ruzicka (b. 1948), the German composer-conductor who uncovered Pettersson's 1979 Viola Concerto (BIS, 2/91) a decade ago, writes about his solution to this problem in the booklet. It will be instructive to compare this with Leif Segerstam's account (to be issued with No. 3 later this year on BIS). Ruzicka's own orchestral sketches (1991), a 'requiem' for Pettersson, are an involving and touching tribute.'