Nobuko Imai: Allan Pettersson Viola Concerto, Lev Markiz

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Allan Pettersson, Viola Concerto (1979)
Nobuko Imai, viola
Lev Markiz, conductor
Malmo Symphony Orchestra

Pettersson, one of four children of a violent, alcoholic blacksmith, was born at the manor of Granhammar in Västra Ryd parish in the province of Uppland, but grew up in poor circumstances in Stockholm, where he resided during his whole life. He once said of himself: "I wasn't born under a piano, I didn't spend my childhood with my father, the composer... no, I learnt how to work white-hot iron with the smith's hammer. My father was a smith who may have said no to God, but not to alcohol. My mother was a pious woman who sang and played with her four children"

In 1930, he began study of violin and viola, as well as counterpoint and harmony, at the Stockholm Royal Conservatory of Music. He became a distinguished viola player but also started composing songs and smaller chamber works in the 1930s. At the beginning of the second world war he was studying the viola in Paris. During the 1940s he worked as a violist in the Stockholm Concert Society Orchestra, but also studied composition privately with Karl-Birger Blomdahl and Otto Olsson. His production from this decade include the twenty-four Barefoot Songs (1943-45) and a concerto for violin and string quartet (1949).

In 1951 Pettersson composed the first of his seventeen symphonies, which he left unfinished; the others were to follow in rapid succession. Also in 1951 he went to Paris to study composition, having been a student of René Leibowitz and Arthur Honegger.

Pettersson returned to Sweden in 1953. That same year he was given the diagnosis polyarthritis and, by the time of his fifth symphony, completed in 1962, his mobility and health were considerably compromised. His greatest success came a few years later with his seventh symphony (1966-67), which has also received more recordings than his other works. The conductor Antal Doráti made premiere recordings of several of Pettersson's symphonies and contributed to his rise to fame during the seventies.

He was hospitalized for nine months in 1970, soon after the composition of his ninth and longest symphony, beginning to write the tenth (1972) from his sickbed. He recovered, but ill health confined him permanently to his apartment. The release of a recording of his seventh symphony (with Antal Doráti conducting the Stockholm Philharmonic) was a breakthrough, establishing his international reputation. During the last decade of his life he also wrote the cantata Vox Humana (1974, on texts by Latin American poets), concertos for violin and orchestra (1977-78) and for viola and orchestra (1979), a twelfth symphony for mixed chorus and orchestra (1973) to poems by Pablo Neruda and a sixteenth symphony (1979) which features a bravura solo part for alto saxophone. He also started to write a seventeenth symphony, but he died before finishing it.

Pettersson's writing is tonal, but very strenuous and often has many simultaneous polyphonic lines. Most of his symphonies are written in a single movement, making them all the more demanding. Overwhelmingly serious in tone, often dissonant, his music rises to ferocious climaxes, relieved, especially in his later works, by lyrical oases. Most of his music has now been recorded at least once and much of it is now available in published score.