The four works here featuring the cello as a solo instrument are from the pen of German post-Romantic composer Hans Pfitzner. A self-described anti-modernist and passionately nationalist Pfitzner was actually Russian-born.
His music is rarely heard with the exception of occasional revivals of his opera Palestrina
or ‘musical legend’ as he called it, or orchestral extracts from it. Of all the claims made for the various merits of neglected composers I believe Pfitzner’s music makes one of the strongest. My recent discoveries have included his Quintet
for piano and string quartet (1908), the Sextet
for clarinet, violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano (1946) and the Piano Concerto
, Op. 31 (1922). His four string quartets warrant further investigation.
The Cello Concerto
in A minor was written in 1888 whilst Pfitzner was still a student at Frankfurt’s Hoch Conservatory but was a work unloved by his teachers. During the composer’s lifetime the manuscript was lost and lay unperformed until 1977 with publication the following year. Taking here just over twenty-three minutes the work is in two substantial sections. I especially enjoyed the aching tenderness Gerhardt finds in the second section marked Adagio molto tranquillo
Nearly fifty years later the Cello Concerto
in G major, Op. 42 was written for Gaspar Cassadó. Relatively short in duration at just over fourteen minutes the score is designed in a single continuous span indexed here into five sections. Its second movement is imbued with lyricism and is notable for its wide dynamics and contrasting moods.
A couple of years prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1937 Pfitzner wrote his attractive if not particularly memorable Duo
for cello, violin and small orchestra, Op. 43. At just under twelve minutes this compact work without a key signature has a single movement span with three discrete sections. It feels as if the two instruments are engaged in deep conversation. Bathed in warm summer sun the melodic Finale
, marked Ganze Takte
, is especially attractive.
Composed in 1943 in the midst of the Second World War the last of Pfitzner’s concertos is the Cello Concerto
in A minor, Op. 52. The composer weaves in the main theme from his teenage Cello Concerto
in the same key. Divided into four movements this is a modestly scored work. I found the second movement marked Nicht zu schnell
both briskly energetic and windswept. I was captivated by the following calm and poignant Feierlich
These lyrical, highly agreeable, undemanding and highly Romantic concertos inhabit a similar sound-world. In truth they offer little in the way of dramatic tension.
Cellist Alban Gerhardt a composed and elegant player, who I have seen a couple of times in live concert, is at one with these scores and takes them all in his stride. With exemplary, highly refined playing he aptly displays the beautiful tone of his Matteo Goffriller cello. In the Duo
violinist Gergova playing her Guadagnini is beautifully poised and does everything the score asks of her. The excellent Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Sebastian Weigle earns top marks as a constantly sympathetic partner. This Hyperion release has been beautifully recorded at the Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin in 2012 by the team of Eadon, Keener and Perry.
It would be hard to imagine Pfitzner’s Cello Concertos
receiving finer performances.
Previous reviews: David
Barker and Rob Barnett