Pfitzner: Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 27; Piano Trio in F, Op. 8

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LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 27; Piano Trio in F, Op. 8
PERFORMER: Benjamin Schmid (violin), Clemens Hagen (cello), Claudius Tanski (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 312 0934-2
Pfitzner’s reputation today rests almost entirely on his opera Palestrina. Attempts to revive his orchestral and chamber works haven’t met with much success. It isn’t that Pfitzner’s style is in the usual sense ‘difficult’. Neither of these two works should pose problems for anyone who can cope with the chamber music of Fauré or Elgar. There are glimpses of emotional depths – and Pfitzner shows a flair for quirky arabesque which lifts the music out of the post-Brahmsian rut it slips into from time to time. Almost any of Pfitzner’s ideas would be striking enough if sampled in small extracts. But listen to either the Sonata or the Trio for long enough and a soporific haze descends. It has nothing to do with the performers, all of whom seem determined to bring out the best and put it on display. The finale of the Trio summed it all up for me: despite the flurries of notes, pounding rhythmic repetitions and striving melodies, underneath the surface the music often seems to be merely treading water – getting nowhere fast. The recordings don’t help: piano tone and reverberation dominate the sound-picture, and in some of Pfitzner’s dense fortissimos it’s an effort to keep one’s ears trained on the solo strings. Stephen Johnson