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Dip Your Ears, No. 221 (Barefoot & Beautiful: Allan Pettersson’s Music on BIS)

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Allan Petterson, Concertos for String Orchestra No.1 & 2, Eight Barefoot Songs
Christian Lindberg, Anders Larsson / Nordic CO
BIS 1690 (72:21)

Difficult to say whether the eight—of 24—Barefoot Songs on this BIS disc owe their gorgeousness to Allan Pettersson’s wistful melodies, or Antal Dorati’s sensitive, empathetic (and very extensive) orchestrations.

Who cares. The result is a lushly morbid collection of very fine orchestral songs with a central European romantic heart and a darkly Scandinavian air surrounding them. Anders Larsson’s baritone is nicely suited to this. Every one of those Barefoot Songs makes one wish that Dorati had orchestrated all 24—and then regret that Pettersson only set two dozen of his own Barefoot Poems (of over 100) to music in the first place.

Then again, that might be too heavy a program for an Allan Pettersson disc—which is where the refreshing astringency of the Concerto No.1 for String Orchestra (1949) comes in. Pettersson’s prescription for the performers was: “Expression, great urgency, wildly alternating and striking rhythms take precedence over accuracy of intonation in a dense mass of sonority. So do not reduce the tempo in order to get the details pedantically correct.” The Nordic Chamber Orchestra Sundsvall under Christian Lindberg (a famous trombonist during the daytime) gets both right: urgency and accuracy. Not at breakneck speeds and certainly never pedantic.

Concerto No.2 for String Orchestra wasn’t performed until eleven years after its 1956 composition, perhaps because Pettersson thought it a cutting room floor project, Michael Kube’s fitting description from his liner notes points out that “passages in the 3rd movement seem like parts of a rejected development section from the 1st movement of the earlier Concerto No.1 for String Orchestra.” Throw in overt references to Barber’s Adagio for Strings and you have a touching and tender, albeit episodic work that fits with Petterson’s paean to music from the soul (and by extension against avant-garde excess): “When will the angel come and give back the song to your heart, so simple and so clear that a child will stop crying?”

This is one of the earlier releases of the "Allan Pettersson Project" of the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, conductor Christian Lindberg and the record company BIS. It is as good an entry into the world of Pettersson as there might be, at least for those who have to first get used to Pettersson's grim style. In these works, he is relatively dainty, by his standards.

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