Musical Discovery – Orchestra Lieder by Hans Pfitzner

This is a bit off the beaten track…. I was very impressed by a new recording of songs for baritone and orchestra by Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949), enthusiastically sung on a new CPO release by Hans Christoph Begemann, with Otto Tausk conducting Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie.  First sentence from the booklet: "Hans Pfitzner's orchestral songs represent what is largely unexplored terrain and to date have only rarely been performed."

Well, where have these songs been hiding?  They are absolutely gorgeous, and Begemann's singing on this disc is excellent.  I predict that if classical radio stations give air time to them, CPO will have a real big hit on its hands.  People will be asking "Where can I get that?" 

What do they sound like?  Mahler orchestra lieder, but less "folky"?  Hard to describe.  The orchestral accompaniment fits comfortably with Richard Strauss's orchestra lieder, but Pfitzner is a bit less sumptuous when it comes to melody.

Of course, with Pfitzner there is the whole Nazi problem.  The guy very much took the wrong side in Germany in his old age – perhaps actuated mainly by the jealousy of a second-rate composer and conductor who was not adequately appreciated, in his view, by the leading Jewish musicians in that time, so he was ripe for the racist theories floated by the Nazis….  But the music is truly gorgeous on this disc, and the texts he is setting – mainly 19th century German poets – is quite unobjectionable: Look at the names: Eichendorff, Herder, Heine, Goethe… mainly the classics.  Listen and marvel.

Begemann, born in 1962, has an active career in opera and lieder in central Europe, and is on several CPO discs, but this is the first time I've encountered him.  Nice warm baritone voice, and very good dramatic instincts for animating these texts in this music.  The orchestral accompaniment is well played and recorded.  Anybody who loves late-Romantic German lieder should hear this.

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