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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Hans PFITZNER (1869-1949)
Von Deutscher Seele - Eichendorff-Kantate (1921)
Gabriele Fontana (sop)
Barbara Hölzl (mezzo)
Glenn Winslade (ten)
Robert Holl (bass)
Anton Holzapfel (organ)
Wiener Singverein/JohannesPrinz
Wiener Symphoniker/Martin Sieghart
rec 27-28 Nov 1999, Großer Saal, des Wiener Musiksverein, Wien DDD
ARTE NOVA 74321 79422 2 [CD1: 48.45; CD2: 50.31]


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Arte Nova are a label with surprises up its corporate sleeve and this has been one of them. I would like to know more about the company but going by appearances they are alert to opportunities and, for a bargain label (9 sterling for these two discs), have a good grip on market need.

Many bargain labels rely on exhumed back catalogue (and long may they continue!). Arte Nova, based in Munich, record specially for release. They move in to record in connection with concerts as well as commissioning totally fresh sessions. The present Pfitzner project seems to have been associated with public concerts given in Vienna in the winter season of 1999. The occasional cough (not many, by the way) may well give the game away.

From his callowest days Pfitzner wrote lieder. Arch-romantic that he was, he bathed in the great German romantic tradition of Schubert and Schumann. In the present work he set twenty-three poems by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857). They follow no narrative sequence being organised in the fashion that suggested itself as the most natural to Pfitzner. In his setting and in the orchestral treatment Pfitzner presents himself as no mere facsimile of his predecessors.

The field of choice is not crowded for this work. DG have had the Pfitzner in their range since the mid-1960s and some collectors may still have the original boxed LP set on their shelves. The DG was most recently issued as 437 033-2 (20th Century Classics series) with Schoeck's Lebendig Begraben (the latter with Fischer-Dieskau and the Berlin RSO conducted by Fritz Rieger). That version was set down in December 1965 in the Munich Herkulesaal. The line-up was prestigious with Agnes Giebel (sop), Hertha Töpper (mz), Fritz Wunderlich (ten) and Otto Wiener (bs) with the Bavarian Radio SO and choir conducted by Joseph Keilberth. This was issued in 1992. The studio balance (not entirely believable but the clearest and most gripping of the three sets) is just a little one-dimensional. Wunderlich is in sturdy heart though with some of the honey drained from his voice but his clarity and lack of vibrato still gloriously in prime. The soul of unassuming German romanticism is to be glimpsed in the Abend movement with its fine tracery of horn and harp although this is clearly difficult to pull off and coordination is momentarily shaky. The harp, by the way, plays an important part in this work; it, for example, puts in an appearance in the final song. Giebel rings out buoyantly over the great blasts of sound at the end of the work - by far the best soprano across the three sets.

In 1989 Koch Schwann-Musica Mundi issued (314 027 K3) a live broadcast recording from Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Köln. There Heinrich Hollreiser conducted the Düsseldorfer SO and Choir with Agnes Habereder (sop), Ingeborg Most (mz), Josef Protschka (ten), Victor von Halem (bs). Protschka is the best tenor out of the three sets. The set has many strengths though like the Arte Nova it presents the Pfitzner work in isolation across two CDs. The sound is excellent combining vivid colour with a sense of depth. The so important orchestral interludes are nicely rendered pointing up the macabre Dürer-spirited Tod als Postillon with its redolence of Mahler (Klagende Lied). This continues a long nightmare tradition traceable back to Schubert's Erlkönig, Raff's Lenore and Liszt's Hunnenschlacht and forward into the hands of Franz Schmidt and the apocalyptic four horsemen episodes in The Book with Seven Seals. The Koch set is severely hampered by the decision to present the work in a single track for each CD. This means you cannot access individual songs in the way that you can so easily with the DG and the Arte Nova.

To the Arte Nova set. The cantata is in three sections with the longest Mensch und Natur on the first CD and the other two (Leben und Singen and Liederteil) on the second disc. This is a work of eerie consolation of nightmare visions, hopes betrayed and self-effacing optimism burgeoning in despite of the obliteration of old certainties. The Great War was still fresh in the memory and the rituals of humiliation inflicted by the victors called forth this far from superficially confident work. Perhaps this has something to do with the heavens-screeching trumpets of the Vienna Symphony in "Wir wandern ...". Winslade is not up to Protschka's ringing standard but his tone is valiant if veering towards wobble. There is some lovely work for the flute in the orchestral Ergebung (CD2 track 3). One blemish is in track 11 with a premature cymbal stroke at end of CD 1 during the soprano scena. Holl is far too wobbly in Gleich wie auf dunklem grunde (CD2 tr5); not a patch on Otto Wiener on DG. There is some lovely soft singing in von alen guten schwingen by the women's choir. Der jagt dahin (CD2 tr 4) starts with pecking and rattling music that suggests memories of Austro-Hungarian cavalry and stiff-collared rhodomontade. We get more of this at the end of Die Friedensbote though its braggadoccio is moderated by the tender Korngoldian orchestral writing at the words 'Rauschen die quellen herein' (CD2 tr 11). The Schlussgesang pulls out all the affirmative stops in clamorous victory and vaulting tone whose boastfulness is softened by the redemptive words 'And the stars to steer thee home!' On the minor debit side the Arte Nova is speckled with the coughing that goes with a live performance this is not quite so prevalent in the Hollreiser version on Koch.

Martin Sieghart is not a frequent visitor to the recording studio. This is a pity as his rare and superbly performed and recorded Franz Schmidt Symphony No. 4 (Chesky - reviewed elsewhere on this site) is not to be missed even in the company of the Rajter, Mehta and Järvi recordings (Opus, Decca, Chandos respectively). I cherish hopes that Sieghart and his Vienna forces will take an interest in Pfitzner's Das dunkle reich and in the songs with orchestra by Joseph Marx.

Sieghart's version lays bare the German lyric soul and does so with great feeling and tenderness. Some blemishes associated with a live performance leave the way open for improvement.

Rob Barnett


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