Pfitzner: Palestrina

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Palestrina
PERFORMER: Richard Holm, Hans Hotter, Ingeborg Bremert; Bavarian State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Joseph Keilberth
CATALOGUE NO: C 515 993 D ADD mono
The main point of interest in this 1963 performance of Pfitzner’s visionary masterpiece – recorded ‘live’ in Munich’s Prince Regent Theatre, scene of its 1917 premiere – lies in Hans Hotter’s presence as Cardinal Borromeo, the Catholic prelate so intent on preserving the riches of polyphony from a Counter-Reformational return to plainsong he even throws Palestrina into prison in an effort to compel him to create the Mass he needs to convince a doubtful Pope. Sadly, Hotter’s voice had loosened (and its beat become obtrusive) by 1963; his Borromeo is better caught in the 1952 bootleg recording, also from Munich, with Patzak a peerless Palestrina. Otherwise, with Holm fluent but faceless in the title role and Keilberth a less than inspirational conductor, it’s the ensemble that saves the day – the host of fine company singers (Fritz Uhl, Max Proebstl, Karl Christian Kohn) that throng the opera’s second act, a savagely anti-clerical scherzo, set during the Council of Trent, in which the Church stands revealed as fatally riven by worldly strife and mortal sin. A young Brigitte Fassbaender pops up briefly as a theological student. Ten years later she sang Silla, Palestrina’s rebellious pupil, in Rafael Kubelík’s compelling studio recording for DG. With Nicolai Gedda and Fischer-Dieskau outstanding as composer and cardinal, and superior (now digitally remastered) sound, that’s clearly the version to have. Mark Pappenheim