Pfitzner: Von deutscher Seele

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COMPOSERS: Pfitzner
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Von deutscher Seele
PERFORMER: Gabriele Fontana (soprano), Barbara Hölzl (mezzo-soprano), Glenn Winslade (tenor), Robert Holl (bass), Anton Holzapfel (organ); Vienna Singverein, Vienna SO/Martin Sieghart
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 79422 2
Hans Pfitzner’s exposé of the German Soul was born at an auspicious time: it was premiered in Berlin in 1922. So to what Zeit was his composing Geist paying homage? The undertow of post- and pre-war nationalism and the nostalgic waves of earlier German Romanticism, epitomised by the poetry of his beloved Eichendorff, swirl in current and cross-current in a cantata in which, as in his opera Palestrina, Pfitzner explores passionately the place of the individual Romantic idealist within the wider world.

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Three parts straddle two discs: a diurnal cycle of Man and Nature; a portentous central block of Love and Song; and a concluding Liederteil – the apotheosis, as it were, of Pfitzner’s own lifelong celebration of Lieder. The first part is by far the best: a delicately variegated orchestral palette teases out mordant late-Romantic chromaticism with an equally colourful, if not always robust, cast of vocal soloists. Horn and harp herald a magical orchestral interlude of night-music: Pfitzner’s skill at the orchestral evocation of not only physical but metaphysical reality is exemplified in the harmonic indeterminacy of an ineffable and intractable seascape.

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The Vienna Singverein comes into its own as the unquiet spirit of Brahms oppresses the wanderings of Part 2. And, powerfully directed by Martin Sieghart, they and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra give their all in the concluding Liederteil, surging with sentiment and a new, fierce strength. Hilary Finch