Pfitzner: Violin Concerto; find works

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Pfitzner
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Violin Concerto; find works
PERFORMER: Volker Banfield (piano), Saschko Gawriloff (violin), Julius Berger (cello), David Geringas (cello); Munich PO, Bamberg SO/Werner Andreas Albert
CATALOGUE NO: 999 249-2 ADD/DDD
Second-rate composers can often attract a cult following. But not Hans Pfitzner. He considered himself a rival of his near-contemporary Richard Strauss, but on the evidence of these five discs a comparison would show a vast gulf between their respective abilities. Where Strauss took the Romantic sound-world to new heights of orchestral complexity, Pfitzner languished in a post-Brahmsian torpor. His associations with Mahler, who was reluctantly persuaded to stage one of his operas in Vienna, will perhaps save him from total obscurity, but he is more likely to be remembered for his polemical writings against musical progress than for his distinctly conservative compositions.

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That said, there is more than passing interest in the almost five hours of orchestral works and concertos on these discs. Pfitzner represents a musical dead-end: as late as the Second World War he was persevering with a straightforwardly lyrical expression that had all but disappeared by the turn of the century. His melodies are often engaging, tinged with Mahlerian pathos, and the orchestration, though unadventurous, is translucent.

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There are hints of modernity, often in the guise of styles borrowed from other composers, for instance Prokofiev, Weill and Busoni, the latter particularly surprising because he was the victim of one of Pfitzner’s most vehement assaults against the ‘new aesthetic’. The Violin Concerto is alone in trying to embrace a genuinely 20th-century style, but the result is so monochrome and clinical that the easily digested lyricism of the other works seems infinitely preferable. Christopher Lambton