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Complete Symphonies Box set

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Product Details

  • Performer: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Dso Berlin; Rso Saarbrücken; Ndr Radi
  • Composer: Pettersson
  • Audio CD (Jan. 30 2007)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 12
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Cpo
  • ASIN: B000L42J7C
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #81,367 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Product Description

Pettersson: Complete Symphonies

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9c1edef4) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4b64d50) out of 5 stars If this is the sort of thing you love, you'll love it Sept. 8 2007
By R. Lieblich - Published on
It's possible to go on at great length about this composer and his however-many symphonies (the first is apparently lost, the 16th is more like a concerto, and there are those who would disallow the twelfth). You can find discussions of some of the individual symphonies in the reviews of their respective recordings. What I'd like to do here is try to give you an overview of Pettersson the symphonist and the recordings in this collection.

I'll start by saying that this set is one of the treasures of my CD collection. I also have pretty close to a complete set of all analog LP versions of Pettersson's works, along with a few CDs of individual symphonies. And "individual" really is the word for those symphonies. Pettersson occasionally drops hints of other composers, but he's entirely his own man. An outsider for just about his entire life, he started gaining some proponents in the last few years of his life -- Dorati, Commissiona, Paul Rapoport (critic for Fanfare Magazine). But he is still very much out of the mainstream, and concert performances of his symphonies are exceedingly rare. I've never found one I could attend.

Pettersson did not lead a happy life. He was an orchestral musician until a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis incapacitated him. His temperament was pessimistic, and calling his personality "gruff" or "blunt" is putting a good face on things. His music depicts predominantly struggle and pain. Even so, it's not a downer. I suspect that his pessimism was tempered by the feeling that no matter how bad a hand life might deal him, he would find a way to prevail. Stylistically, the music is quite free. I can't recall a sonata form in any of the symphonies. Its coherence is emotional, rather than structural.

But what does it sound like? It sounds like Pettersson. What else? He uses the orchestra masterfully and frequently masses many instruments into a really powerful sound. Mahler wrote for a huge orchestra but tended to isolate individual instruments or small groups. Pettersson's textures are much thicker, but no less interesting. There is comparatively little forward movement, as such, and much of the time you can't tell where the music is going until after it's arrived. But it's not aleatory or serial; it's just heavily chromatic and loosely structured. Often you'll find the music repeating obsessively or slowly varying, not quite like minimalism but with strong hints of it. You can't fully grasp any of these symphonies in one or two hearings -- or maybe even ten. But you can *feel* them instantly.

What differentiates Pettersson is how emotional his music is. He makes Mahler and Bruckner sound like introverts. If you really focus on the music as it goes by, you may find yourself emotionally shaken long before the symphony ends. If I mak risk a couple of similes, it's like *King Lear* or a Breughel painting. Whether you appreciate this sort of music is up to you. If you do, Pettersson's your man. If you're still unsure, try to find a way to listen to the Seventh or Eighth. They're about as "easy" as Pettersson gets. If you like what you hear, this set's the next step. Then you can consider whether to get other performances of individual symphonies.

As for this set, it doesn't always have the best performances. I won't go into detail, because you can find discussions in posted review of the individual symphonies. I myself prefer Dorati in the Seventh and Commissiona in the Eighth, and there are some others where you really ought to check out the competition. But I'd still get this set first. The price is right, there are no outright failures among the performances, the sound is more than adequate (no easy feat in this music), and several of the symphonies are available only in the versions on this set.

As I said before, I treasure this set. I hope I've helped you a little bit in deciding whether you will, too. Now it's up to you.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c1be1ec) out of 5 stars Almost Against My Better Judgment -- Five Stars Feb. 24 2012
By Joel Kovacik - Published on
A couple of years ago (just for the crazed hell of it), I ordered the complete boxed set of Allan Pettersson's 16 symphonies, and -- knowing pretty much in advance what to expect -- left them moldering somewhere within the nether reaches of my cluttered office shelves. Thus far, I've listened to ten out of the twelve CDs and have come to the cheerless conclusion it would take maybe ten years or more of repeated listening before I could feel confident enough to be able to identify correctly any single symphony from among the remaining of its next of kin...or, to put it more analogously: to pick out one particular toothpick from an entire box of toothpicks.

The music -- turbulent, blaring, chalk-scratchingly dissonant, for the most part -- calls to mind the pitiful agony of some Hell-imprisoned soul, screaming vainly for release and redemption from a bottomless pit of fiery torment. And yet there's something inexplicably compelling about the music amid all the cacophony and chaos.

I often play online chess (with Pettersson's "volcanic eruptions" serving as dramatic background) and frequently imagine myself in a fierce, life-and-death struggle against some imagined demonic force, out to destroy me. The experience is "terrifying!"'s other-worldly!'s wonderfully -- INSANELY! -- cathartic. And every once in a while (as, for example, in the arresting 7th, 8th and 9th Symphonies), I find a gut-wrenchingly poignant breather -- a soothing respite of haunting pathos from the storm and fury that preceded it -- which helps to counterbalance (even somewhat redeem) Pettersson's hitherto violent outpourings.

As an avowed lover of Romantic symphonic music, I cannot in good faith recommend Pettersson to those of you who ardently share a similar taste. However, I will say this: Watch out! -- because under the "right" set of circumstances...with the "right" grin-and-bear-it approach (and possibly when you least expect it), Pettersson CAN grow on you.

I award this boxed set of Allan Pettersson's symphonies five overly generous stars, based more than anything else on the shocked improbability I'd ever be able to withstand and actually (OUCH!) "enjoy" what often amounts to little more than the earsplitting onslaughts of an orchestral ensemble run amok.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb299a720) out of 5 stars Idiomatic Performances of the "Dour Swede" March 11 2013
By Gene Barnes - Published on
Verified Purchase
I purchased this set after undergoing major heart surgery and after listening during my recovery to the several Pettersson symphonies I already owned. An odd choice, certainly, but not so oddly that you can't imagine the attraction his work had, speaking as it does to life-affirming struggles. The music is also attractive in its very immediacy. You're never waiting for something to happen, because it's happening now. The music is unremittingly in a minor key, and phrases can be repeated as if they were written by a minimalist, but there's always something interesting happening over the repetition. Hard to explicate beyond that. Though not all by the same conductor or the same orchestra, these performances are all state-of-the-art digital stereo and well-executed. One might even say that the choice of a different orchestra meant that the one symphony a given orchestra gets asked to perform is the one they really commit to doing well.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c1bc4a4) out of 5 stars Greatest composer since Beethoven Oct. 27 2012
By Pernickity - Published on
"Someone once said that I compose out of self-pity. I have never pitied myself; I have never been able to cry. I know of pity for others but not self-pity. I find it difficult to hate people, but I do hate those who pity themselves." ~ Allan Pettersson

Pettersson is certainly one of the great composers of the 20th century. Pettersson's music has a very distinctive sound and can hardly be confused with that of any other composer. The sound on these CPO recordings (1984 - 2004) is excellent and the performances truly wonderful.

I also recommend you hear the composer Kurt Atterberg who was a compatriot/contemporary of Pettersson.
29 of 65 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c6b0234) out of 5 stars The Great Unknown Composer March 25 2007
By paul best - Published on
EDIT MAY 6,2009: SYSM 3 and 4 ARE PART OF THE SYMPHONIC CYCLE...I have reconsidered my previous assessment that the cycle begins at sym 6,,but now realize syms 3,4,5 ARE INDEED PART of the cycle...UNREAL..3-15..lets see thats a 13 sym cycle..13 syms in as part of one any other composer to do such a task?...Pettersson, the greatest symphonic composer in the 20th century, and the greatest other than Mozart.. (Beethoven..good grief, I hate LVB's music, yucckkk!)

Hi Richard I just now read your comment , in June, you wrote concerning my review and your criticisms are fair and well taken, Thus time for a revision, completely different from the previous. As you mention, everyday more folks are making "the Pettersson discovery". As I predicted that discovery would take place. This I spoke about 4 yrs ago on the classical discussion forum Good Music Guide, a forum I no longer frequent, due to differing of opinions on too many issues, and neither side willing to budge on their position. Least of all am I willing to make compromise SINCE THEIR SIDE HAS ALL THE POWER. THAT IS CONCERT PROGRAMMING AROUND THE WORLD SPECIFICALLY EXCULDES ALL PETTERSSON. END OF DISCUSSION.
But this is the norm for me, I'm at odds with instuitions of all sorts. The church, the med INDUSTRY, the insurance INDUSTRY, the Gov INDUSTRY, etc. So I'm on my usual to be at odds with The Classical Music Industry.
Now I will rewrite much of my cramped style phrasing and word choice in my review.
In fact I'll work on it at length over the course of this yr, so what you read now, may be different 6 months from now. "a work in progress".
I will draw from the notes of the CPO and BIS releases.

Notes to sym 2/CPO : ""And yet the radical emotionality of Allan P 's music creates the impression of something new and literally unheard of"
This same feelings and impressions may be said about Debussy's first major work Twilight Of a Afternoon of a fawn", also of Richard Wagner's 3 great operas, The Ring, Parsifal, Tristan, and of course the 3 great second viennese composers Schonberg, Berg, Webern. All these composers established new forms and images, though obviously even to this day some will not accept these musical styles. One other composer I should mention is Pettersson's contemporary, Alfred Schnitkke, who also produced powerful creations which stike the listner as "totally different, unheard of before".
These "break through composers" are not something for everyone, as is say the music of the romantic tradition, which everyone is fully acquainted, due to mild themeatic tonality and thus "listener friendly".
Pettersson's music is really dedicated to a select few( though by no means excluding others), who like himself have found life to be crushing. This is not to say that others are not allowed entrance....

The notes in this booklet go on to say "most of Pettersson's syms are colossal one movement canvasses...mighty songs of anger and accusations...they would have been unthinkable without the heritage of late romanticism but also bear the stamp of the harsher expressive mode of music of the 20th century".
One can hear influences from Mahler and of course from P's neighboring great composer, Jean Sibelius, primarily in syms 2-5.
At sym 6, Pettersson walks away from the Mahlerian and Sibelian 'shadows" and embrarks ona remarkable Grand Symphonic Cycle. I noticed in the notes ona BIS or CPO recording where the author states somewhat what i believe, that these syms have some underlying connective theme. (this comment may be on the BIS 8/10, which I somehow lost and will have to replace, only 3 sellers of this hard to find cd).
This cycle begins at sym 6, then onto what has now become "The Great 7th"..a subtitle that betrays the 7th's place within the cycle. As if the 7th can be separated from the 6th and 8th.
The 7th is one part within this great 9 symphonic cycle. No other composer has managed to bring about such a project. Mozqart's great last 6 syms are each complete within themselves. But here with Pettersson, each sym leads on to the next, starting with the 6th, each following is as if a chapter ina story about the soul in modern times, , like unto a song once sung by the soul. This is how Pettersson describes the emotional aspect of his music..

The cycle begins at sym 6, continues to the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, the 12th is a choral work and not a part of the cycle, we now move to the 13th, 14th, and the 15th closes out this masterwork of 9 syms. The 16th is a "sax concerto sym" and like the 12th does not take part in the feeling , emotive message that we hear in the other 9 syms.
I am aware that like all great genius, Pettersson's syms will not be embraced by any majority of the classical community.
Let me close with some of the notes in the CPO series, this from sym 2

"And Pettersson could describe his life as blessed because he succeeded MORE SO THAN PROBABLY ANY OTHER COMPOSER OF OUR CENTURY, in rendering audible his involvement in the cause of humanity and the humane. In his eyes, artistic IDENTIFICATION WITH THE OPPRESED was a (necessary) form of SELF SACRIFICE .
The following line of the notes is a quote from the composer:
"The Identification with the small, unsightly, anonymous with the eternally immutable but ever new and fresh. It is in this way that one saves one's own life".

Matthew 16:25 "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose their life for my sake will find it"
Save in this case meaning greedly selfishly only considering your life without any thought for the other guy.
Pettersson's life has all the hallmarks of the heroic journey. Since birth the "monsters" were all around him, alcoholic very abusive father, extreme poverty in a slum life, had no true friends who could understand him...and this oppressive atmosphere continued all his life.
The turmoils in Pettersson;'s life did not stop even later on in life. There is a incident which I feel should be told and well kept in mind.
It was in 1975, 20 yrs after establishing himself as a mojor composer in Sweden, seems the Stockholm PO had a USA concert tour that was to include a sym from Pettersson. At the last minute the Stockholm altered the program to not include the Pettersson work. This cause much agitation and hurt to Petterson's spirit, as now even his country's main orch failed to give due respect and honor to their country's finest composer.
I for one can never forgive the Stockholm for doing such a obnoxious and no other way than to say evil deed. The Stockholm has never recorded a pettersson sym, and I have my doubts that this mediocre (judgeing by their Sibelius and other recordings) second rate orch has the necessary talents to match Pettersson's enormous challenges. Not even the Swedish national radio has recorded any Pettersson's syms. The fact that either major swede orch has yet to record a Pettersson sym, may reveal some underlying breakdown in the social fabric of the swede culture.
btw i also had the all the Swedish RSO recordings in Sibelius, none possess a certain standard of excellence which would lead me to believe this orch could be up to the task of a Pettersson sym.

Pettersson wrote on June 13, 1975 after his crushing blow dealt by the Stockholm in denying his right to a place on the program {a "unforgivable sin" IMHO]
"I have been incurably ill ever since the 1960's. My creativity is a miracle. A miracle like love in my lifehas kept me alive...taht I have experienced to the outermost extreme as a downtrodden human being, but in spite of it all, PEOPLE HAVE CONTINUED TO TRAMPLE ALL OVER ME, that is too far from the world present in my music, therefore I want to keep this music for and to myself"

What the swedes did to Petttersson on that date, is difficult to overlook and excuse such behavior.
Pettersson's music is not for the mainstream musical community. His music is for those who are in touch with the dimensions of existence upon which his life partook. If your life has not taken some of the difficulities , sufferings which Pettersson experienced and expresses in his syms, its unlikely that you will hear his music in the way music is meant to be heard. That is with one's depth, one's soul. Which is why i realize that Pettersson , though gaining slight recognition, is yet for another distant time, a future generation. The psyche has yet not been recognized as the basis to a conscious human life. Pettersson speaks to man's psyche, the greek term for soul.

And if a major USA orch ever does decide to perform a Pettersson sym, I still will become enthused, neither excited nor over-joyed. . Why? Because no doubt the sym chosen will be the 7th. "Absolutely , must be the 7th...its the most accessible"...I plead my petition to the USA orch's and request the 7th not be performed UNTIL all others of the great cycle are first performed. PERFORM THE 7th LAST. ...No doubt my words will not be heard and the 7th will be performed and, then "thats that'.
You'll not hear another Pettersson sym from that particular orch , most likely never again in your lifetime. do us all us Pettersson fans, and stay away from the 7th, its off limits, until you perform all the other sysm that make up "the great cycle".
..I know Comissiona recorded the 8th with the Baltimore. I have no interest. The BIS 8th is stunning and seriously doubt the Comissiona/DG 8th on vinyl surpasses the Segerstam. The Segerstam 8th is just that great. "definitive" may be used in this case.

Lastly if music does not speak to the soul in the present, I for one do not consider this to be great music. What meant much to past generations, may not always mean much to a new generation of music lovers. Music must contain meaning, otherwise its just ink on paper. That said, let the 2 major divisions of classicalphiles get along as best can, peacefully, without the chronic bickering we see taking shape on all levels of our fragmented society.
Now am i talking about a "pettersson cult", heavens NO. We already have one composer worshipped and idolized, those initials are LvB. What i am refering to is the radical changes we see taking place all around us and this evolution of man's spirit will one day embrace classical music. And in THAT day, , epoch, age, name it as you wsih, the name Allan Pettersson will be acknowledged for who he is and for the sacrifical gifts he gave us.
Nov 7, 2007
New Orleans

EDIT: The Segerstam/BIS 10th I have problems with. the brass section is having a heck of a time bringing out the emotional level required. look to the CPO for a much better 10th. But the 8th on the BIS 8/10 I prefer much more vs the CPO's handling on certain phrasing.

Richard post on note on my updated review.

EDIT/UPDATE April 30,2009
Since this review of Pettersson's significance for modern man's soul in a time of great tragedy, much has happened on the world's stage.
Ice all over the world is quickly declining/global warming
wall street CEO's (Fuld of Lehman and his hundred cronies) are bankrupting folks 401K's...
The FED/world governments are pumping trillions to relace the money lost
Feds housing bubble has lost 30%+ value
Jobs very scarce.
massive wildfies
Suicides exploding (most are not made public)
families making suicide pact
murders /crimes exploding.
Pettersson's music is a God-send to the few who have ears and hearts that feel the great tragedy unfolding.