Pfitzner, Schoeck

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COMPOSERS: Pfitzner,Schoeck
LABELS: DG 20th Century Classics
WORKS: Von Deutsche Seele (Of the German Soul), Op. 28
PERFORMER: Pfitzner: Agnes Giebel, Hertha Töpper, Fritz Wunderlich, Otto Wiener, Bavarian Radio Chorus and SO/Joseph KeilberthSchoeck: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Rieger
It was Gerald Abraham who called Pfitzner’s opera, Palestrina, ‘Parsifal without the jokes’. Well there aren’t many in Von deutsche Seele either, though there are the occasional echoes of Parsifal. Pfitzner was very much of a traditionalist composing in the received language of Brahms and Strauss, and by 1921, when this oratorio/song cycle came into being, he was perceived as an arch-conservative – and not only in matters musical!


This huge sequence of Eichendorff settings for four soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra is a rarity and full of marvellous things. In a letter to Klemperer, Pfitzner compared it to one of the middle-period Mahler symphonies in terms of length, and if you enjoy the opulence of late Romanticism, you will feel at home here. Its neglect may be understandable (he also wrote Krakauer Begrüssung in honour of the Nazi oppressor of Poland, Hans Frank) but regrettable, as it is a rewarding and often original score.


Even if it were not, I would be recommending this set for the sake of Fischer-Dieskau’s legendary account of Othmar Schoeck’s chilling Lebendig begraben (Buried Alive), composed at much the same time. It is a masterly and gripping narrative, one of the most imaginative of 20th-century song cycles, and gloriously sung. The 1962 recording is more vivid than the slightly later and eminently acceptable recording of the Pfitzner. Robert Layton