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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

'Pfitzner: Cello Concertos' (CDA67906)
Pfitzner: Cello Concertos
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Section 1: Andante molto sostenuto – Allegro
Section 2: Adagio molto tranquillo

Cello Concerto in A minor, Op posth.
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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