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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: #91,351 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) 4.3 out of 5 stars 7 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Idiomatic Performances of the "Dour Swede" March 11 2013
By Gene Barnes - Published on
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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.
74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 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.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 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.
9 of 70 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not "Great" by Any Stretch of Imagination June 21 2009
By Christopher A. Fulkerson - Published on
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After the second or third symphony, which are OK but definitely NOT great, these pieces tend ever-increasingly to be self-indulgent vats of lard. Studying with Rene Leibowitz and playing in an orchestra (which he couldn't sustain), didn't succeed in making Pettersson a professional composer. He is the biggest amateur ever to get boxed sets. I listened to twelve of these pieces, and just can't drag myself to any more. The last symphony is mathematical proof that there is a reason for the old saying, "Play the saxophone, go to jail."