Notes and Editorial Reviews
German romantic poetry in words and music threaded through and tied off with supercharged accelerant - a blazing and roaring lunge at sun-drenched fierce nobility.
My interest in Pfitzner was spurred by a chance hearing of a 1970s BBC Radio 3 broadcast of his First Cello Concerto. The performer was Rohan de Saram whose name was known to me because of his Pearl LP of the Bax Rhapsodic Ballad (SHE547). The music was supple, very romantic and the musical ideas were succulent. The CPO CD of the two cello concertos – good as it is – fails quite to capture de Saram’s rapturous freedom and lyrical release.
Later I heard the classic DG recording on 437 033-2 20th Century Classics of
Von Deutsche Seele and
was further won over. This was set down in December 1965 in the Munich Herkulesaal with a luxury line-up of Agnes Giebel (soprano), Hertha Töpper (mezzo), Fritz Wunderlich (tenor) and Otto Wiener (bass). The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir were conducted by Joseph Keilberth. Other more recent versions included a very good one from Arte Nova in 2002. There the forces were the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and choir/Martin Sieghart with soloists Barbara Holzl, Anton Holzapfel, Gabriele Fontana and Glenn Winslade. From 1986 comes a set on Koch 314 027 K3 with the Dusseldorf Symphony conducted by Heinrich Hollreiser.
Pfitzner the man and Pfitzner the composer: these two present tensions. We expect composers of music we love or want to love to be admirable yet there is no reason to connect the two. Pfitzner held political and racial views that were and remain odious and criminally despicable. These views he held fast to even after the War was over. He was an out and out Hitlerite and a close friend of Hans Frank the Governor-General for Poland. This did not however stop him protecting a number of fellow artists who happened to be Jewish. The days of effete hagiography for our composers has I hope passed but Pfitzner tests us to the utmost. It’s a matter of choice whether we believe such views in some way pervade or pollute the art or whether the man and music can be compartmentalised. Our modern perspective is so different from that of the 1920s when
Von Deutsche Seele was written and of the 1930s and 1940s. For my part I try to apply the test: what would I have made of this music if I had turned it on midway through a broadcast and not known any of the background. If I am moved by the music in ignorance of the composer’s name and life am I any less moved when I know the rest? Was the experience of the music in some way falsified by not knowing what sort of man the composer was? I think not; others will take a different road and destination.
This extravagant 90 minute setting of twenty-three poems by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857) is divided into two sections:
Man and Nature and
Life and Singing. Each is in twelve separately tracked episodes. It is most assuredly not, for most of its span, a bombastic or ‘kolossal’ nationalist tract – not at all the equivalent of Speer’s architecture or, for that matter, Stalin’s. Its piercingly romantic lyricism is masterly and poignant. Try the
Abend movement (CD 1 tr. 6) which is magically idyllic. There’s much sensitive play there between delicate honeyed strings, solo harp and woodwind and horns – almost Delian. The orchestral writing throughout is highly creative and replete with interest. There’s much excellent singing from a radiant quartet of solo voices of which I would only mildly criticise Ventris and Holl for a tremble in the voice in such testingly slow episodes as
Der Wandrer in Section I. Part II launches with a tense orchestral
vorspiel pregnant with the threat of corbie-cawing brass and drums. A roaring conflict bursts brutally forth from the choir in
Geistliche Gedichte (CD 2 tr. 2) and recalls - as at least one earlier Part I motif does - the music of Franz Schmidt in
The Book of the Seven Seals. There is peace of a sort in the enigmatically sinuous
Ergebung (tr. 4) but nothing like that in
Abend in Part I.
Der Jagt Dahin (CD 2 tr. 5) has a brutalising Orff-like nervy joy about it. The choir is gloriously well trained as we can hear from their subtle and tender ministrations in
Von allen Guten (CD 2 tr. 8) and their terpsichorean daintiness in
Wohl vor lauter Singen (CD 2 tr. 10). The solo violin in
Schlaf ein is Straussian in its entwining with Holl’s voice (CD 2 tr. 11). Here references to battle engender a galloping orchestral figure that might perhaps have inspired Hans Zimmer in his music for
Pirates of the Caribbean. In the final
Schlussgesang Pfitzner resorts to massive hortatory writing for chorus and soloists. It’s supercharged with orchestral and organ accelerant - a blazing and roaring lunge at sun-drenched fierce nobility.
There are good notes and the sung German words are printed in parallel with English translations. You have to work at finding which poem links with which track but it’s all there to follow.
Later controversial works seem flat beside this poetic epic. I tried
Das Dunkle Reich on Preiser 93311 with Graz-based forces under Alois J Hochstrasser in a 1979 performance but it failed to impress.
You should decide for yourself but rather like Röntgen’s
Aus Goethe’s Faust this can be seen as an immersive celebration of German romantic poetry in words and music. The emphasis is on poetry although in Part II Pfitzner is more given to massive declamation.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Von deutscher Seele, Op. 28 by Hans Pfitzner
Solveig Kringelborn (Soprano),
Christopher Ventris (Tenor),
Robert Holl (Bass),
Nathalie Stutzmann (Alto)
Berlin Radio Chorus,
Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1921; Germany
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