WORKS: Lieder (complete), Vol. 1
PERFORMER: Julie Kaufmann (soprano), Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Andreas Schmidt (baritone), Donald Sulzen, Michael Gees, Rudolf Jansen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 228-2
Pfitzner is best remembered for his opera Palestrina – according to taste either a profound music drama or an overblown hymn to German nationalism by a musical reactionary. He is a troubling figure, not least for the opportunism he showed in helping the Nazis define ‘Degenerate Art’. But much of his music deserves attention, and after his half-dozen operas Pfitzner’s 115 songs comprise the most important part of his output. The first volume of CPO’s enterprising survey takes in the songs written up to the year of his 21st birthday, 1890. None shows him straying beyond convention, but many of the Weberesque lines are very attractive.
Some major poets are represented, and often they inspire the finest music, as Christoph Prégardien’s performance of the Heine setting ‘Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam’ reveals. Prégardien is stylish throughout, but Julie Kaufmann, who is represented in only a few songs, lacks the colour in her soprano to give really penetrating performances. Andreas Schmidt’s warm, flexible baritone makes him the most sympathetic interpreter here: he brings out all the intensity of a song like ‘Mein Herz ist wie die dunkle Nacht’, showing the young Pfitzner already to have been a worthy Lieder composer, and whetting the appetite for further volumes in this series. John Allison