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.