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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67906
Recording details: June 2012
Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin, Germany
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon & Dave Rowell
Release date: March 2014
Total duration: 23 minutes 16 seconds

'The earliest and most fascinating composition here, a cello concerto dating from 1889 when Pfitzner was a 19-year-old student, starts like a pious exercise in Schumannesque rumination but takes in startling and richly orchestrated outbursts evoking Wagner’s Venusberg … when he returned to the cello concerto genre in 1935 it was with music of unusual concision, making his typically unsettling mixture of restraint and flamboyance even more effective than usual … the Hyperion team provide a characterful recording, close to the music’s generally expansive sonorities without obscuring its many distinctive details. Alban Gerhardt is an unfailingly charismatic soloist, finding a sense of purpose where others might lapse into aimlessness, and the orchestral support is first-rate' (Gramophone) » More

'The three Cello Concertos … reveal a warmer, more human side to Pfitzner’s character. It’s evident not least in the late A minor Concerto (1943). In this piece, the 74-year-old composer, ill, bereaved and bombed-out, nostalgically recalled the rhapsodic A minor Concerto that he’d written as a student 53 years earlier and believed lost (it was rediscovered in 1975), while basing the slow movement on a 1923 song beginning ‘My end is drawing nigh’. Like the concise, single-span G major Concerto (1935), its rapturous cantilena all organically derived from its opening cello theme, the late A minor offers a sometimes bizarre mix of the lyrical and the whimsical. Gerhardt holds it all together with his sustained singing lines, while Weigle and his Berlin band provide vividly pointillist backing (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'Gerhardt und das Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin unter Sebastian Weigle haben zu einer in sich durchaus stimmigen Interpretation gefunden … ein echter Hinhörer ist das Duo op. 43 für Violine, Cello und kleines Orchester … diese ist wirklich gut geglückt … das passt zu dem schwärmerischen, fantasievollen und weit ausgesponnenen Dialog, der streckenweise an ein Liebesduett erinnert' (NDR, Germany)

Cello Concerto in A minor, Op posth.
1888; written for Heinrich Kiefer; first performed by Esther Nyffenegger with the Würzburg Musikhochschule orchestra under Hermann Dechant on 18 February 1977; published in 1978

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The early Cello Concerto in A minor, Op posth., was written in 1888, the result of Pfitzner’s friendship with the cellist Heinrich Kiefer (1867–1922)—a fellow student at the Frankfurt Conservatory. In order for the work to be performed, it needed approval from the Director, Bernhard Scholz, but he was unimpressed, noting with outrage that Pfitzner had made what he considered an elemetary error in using ‘three trombones in a cello concerto!’. (In passing, it should be noted that in his 1894–5 concerto, Dvorák used not only three trombones but also a tuba.) An attempt to obtain support for the work from Max Bruch also failed—a smarting Pfitzner later recalled ‘an awfully impolite letter’ from the older composer. Pfitzner recycled a few musical ideas from the concerto in his first opera, Der arme Heinrich, but the manuscript of his early Cello Concerto subsequently disappeared, much to the composer’s distress, since he believed that it contained worthwhile music and always regarded it with affectionate nostalgia—as he showed by returning to it when writing the Op 52 Cello Concerto in later life.

The A minor Concerto is in two sections. The first begins Andante molto moderato with a gently swaying theme that emerges from the orchestral cellos and a solo bassoon, soon followed by the first entry of the soloist on a long, very quiet held E which develops into a lyrical and increasingly dramatic soliloquy that leads to the main Allegro. There’s a youthful energy about this music—Pfitzner at his most unselfconscious, relishing the challenge of writing for a brilliant virtuoso soloist who brings the movement to a close with a dazzling scale in octaves. The second section is of a less predictable formal design. It opens with the expressive core of the concerto, a long-breathed Adagio molto tranquillo which is dominated by a song-like melody introduced by the soloist and subsequently developed in a rapturous dialogue with the orchestra, especially the woodwind. A brief, exciting Allegro recalling the falling theme from the first movement is followed by a reflective cadenza for the soloist, and a return to the mood of the work’s opening, reaching a serene conclusion in A major. This early work was first performed in public on 18 February 1977, by the cellist Esther Nyffenegger with the orchestra of the Würzburg Musikhochschule conducted by Hermann Dechant, and it was published the following year.

from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2014

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