OP1759. PALESTRINA (Pfitzner), Live Performance, 1 Aug., 1955, Salzburg, w.Kempe Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; Max Lorenz, Elisabeth Söderström, Jean Madeira, Gottlob Frick, Ferdinand Frantz, Otto von Rohr, Paul Schöffler, Walter Berry, Alfed Poell, Otto Wiener, etc. (E.U.) 3-Walhall 0241. - 4035122652413
"Hans Pfitzner was one of the composers who carried the German Romantic tradition well into the 20th century. Unlike those of his contemporaries Mahler and Richard Strauss, his reputation never seemed to extend beyond the borders of his homeland. Yet there is much that is individualistic and much to admire from his body of work - particularly in his best-known work, the opera PALESTRINA.
The crown of Pfitzner's work is arguably his opera PALESTRINA (1915), based on the life of the Renaissance composer and quoting passages of that master's music. Pfitzner may have seen himself in the opera's protagonist, as a man who, sticking to his principles, upholds musical tradition against the depredations of power. (The opera treats the legendary effort on Palestrina's part to compose a work beautiful and spiritual enough to foretell the banning of polyphony under consideration by the architects of the Counter Reformation.) Also noteworthy is Pfitzner's cantata VON DEUTSCHER SEELE (Of the German Soul) of 1920. Both works are in the highly chromatic, richly sonorous tradition of post-Romanticism, and could never be mistaken for mere throwbacks to the 19th century.
Although the Romantic revival of the 1960s did not do for Pfitzner what it did for many of his contemporaries, there is much of his output worth hearing. At his best, Pfitzner spoke with the eloquence and intensity of one who consciously lives during the close of a glorious era.”
- Wayne Reisig, allmusic.com
“On April 30, 1945, ‘zero hour’, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, while American G.I.s paid their respects to Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner was living with his second wife in a single room in a makeshift hospital. Pfitzner, once Strauss's most determined rival, was now linked to anti-Semitic, Nazi polemics. His musical attempts were a pastiche of century-old Romanticism, with only an echo of a once formidable personal style. Strauss, since his death in 1949, has only increased in fame. Pfitzner, who died the same year, remains in limbo. His opera PALESTRINA is usually described as a masterpiece, but it is seldom heard.”
- Alex Ross, THE NEW YORKER, 21 July, 1997, p.72
“One of the great unsung conductors of the middle twentieth century, Rudolf Kempe enjoyed a strong reputation in England but never quite achieved the international acclaim that he might have had with more aggressive management, promotion, and recording. Not well enough known to be a celebrity but too widely respected to count as a cult figure, Kempe is perhaps best remembered as a connoisseur's conductor, one valued for his strong creative temperament rather than for any personal mystique. He studied oboe as a child, performed with the Dortmund Opera, and, in 1929, barely out of his teens, he became first oboist of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. His conducting début came in 1936, at the Leipzig Opera; this performance of Lortzing's DER WILDSCHÜTZ was so successful that the Leipzig Opera hired him as a répétiteur. Kempe served in the German army during World War II, but much of his duty was out of the line of fire; in 1942 he was assigned to a music post at the Chemnitz Opera. After the war, untainted by Nazi activities, he returned to Chemnitz as director of the opera (1945-1948), and then moved on to the Weimar National Theater (1948-1949). From 1949 to 1953 he served as general music director of the Staatskapelle Dresden, East Germany's finest orchestra. He then moved to the identical position at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, 1952-1954, succeeding the young and upwardly mobile Georg Solti. During this period he was also making guest appearances outside of Germany, mainly in opera: in Vienna (1951), at Covent Garden (1953), and at the Metropolitan Opera (1954), to mention only the highlights. Although he conducted Wagner extensively, especially at Covent Garden, Kempe did not make his Bayreuth début until 1960. As an opera conductor he was greatly concerned with balance and texture, and singers particularly appreciated his efforts on their behalf. Kempe made a great impression in England, and in 1960 Sir Thomas Beecham named him associate conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic. Kempe became the orchestra's principal conductor upon Beecham's death the following year, and, after the orchestra was reorganized, served as its artistic director from 1963 to 1975. He was also the chief conductor of the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra from 1965 to 1972, and of the Munich Philharmonic from 1967 until his death in 1976. During the last year of his life he also entered into a close association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Interpretively, Kempe was something of a German Beecham. He was at his best -- lively, incisive, warm, expressive, but never even remotely self-indulgent -- in the Austro-Germanic and Czech repertory. Opera lovers prize his versions of LOHENGRIN, DIE MEISTERSINGER, and ARIADNE AUF NAXOS. His greatest recorded legacy, accomplished during the last four or five years of his life, was the multi-volume EMI set of the orchestral works and concertos of Richard Strauss, performed with the highly idiomatic Dresden Staatskapelle. These recordings were only intermittently available outside of Europe in the LP days, but in the 1990s EMI issued them on nine compact discs.”
- James Reel, Rovi
“Dramatic tenor Max Lorenz usually made the most of a hard-edged and often intractable voice in singing the heroic rôles of Wagner and the high-lying lyric/dramatic ones of Strauss. A riveting stage figure (trim and athletic in appearance), he was, in his prime, perhaps the most credible visual exponent of Siegmund and the two Siegfrieds. His musicianship, likewise, was more reliable than that of most other singers of the big German rôles. Yet his voice was so unmalleable and his technique so unorthodox, that his performances required of the listener a considerable period of adjustment. Once the accommodation was made to a vocal mechanism that sounded as though its soft palate had been constructed of concrete, significant rewards awaited.
Following study in Berlin, Lorenz was awarded a prize in a competition sponsored by a city newspaper. He was subsequently engaged by Fritz Busch for Dresden and made his début there in 1927, singing the secondary rôle of Walter in TANNHÄUSER. His performance as Menelaus in Strauss' ÄGYPTISCHE HELENA, premiered in Dresden in 1928, prompted the composer to recommend Lorenz to Berlin where they were seeking a tenor for the same rôle. Lorenz left Dresden, joining the Berlin Staatsoper in 1933.
Meanwhile, he had made his début at the Metropolitan Opera in 1931. His Walter in DIE MEISTERSINGER was received as the work of a ‘serious artist and an intelligent musician’, though one afflicted with a ‘hard and unyielding tone quality’ that changed little during the ensuing two decades of Metropolitan appearances. Perhaps the continued presence of Lauritz Melchior made it impossible for New York audiences to adjust to the much less beautiful sound produced by Lorenz.
London heard Lorenz for the first time on-stage in 1934 when his Walter made a good impression. He returned to Covent Garden in 1937 for the title rôle in SIEGFRIED and was found too lightweight for the arduous rôle, but an ‘eminently cultivated and musicianly singer’ nonetheless. Bayreuth proved a more hospitable venue for Lorenz's unique art. For a decade beginning in 1933, the tenor sang Siegfried and Tristan to considerable acclaim and gained a reputation as a singing actor of exceptional ability. Recordings from the theater preserve his Siegfried, sung with rare intensity and rhythmic spring. From 1937, he was a regular at the Vienna Staatsoper, as well as a frequent visitor to other European houses. In the post-WWII era, he sang in Italy, performing both Wagner and Verdi, and appeared in both Mexico City and Buenos Aires. Salzburg heard him frequently, as did other festivals such as those at Amsterdam, Florence, and Zürich. In addition to his dramatic leading rôles, Lorenz took on contemporary parts in the premières of Gottfried Von Einem's DER PROZESS in 1953, Rolf Liebermann's PENELOPE in 1954, and as late as 1961, of Rudolf Wagner-Régeny's DAS BERGWERK ZU FALUN.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
"Elisabeth Söderström, the Swedish soprano acclaimed for the plangent richness and intelligence of her singing and for her wide-ranging repertory, including influential portrayals of leading roles in the operas of Janácek, was admired by opera lovers around the world, notably in Sweden and England, where she performed most often, within the field she was revered. With her radiant, creamy voice, thorough musicianship and keen dramatic instincts, she was a model for singers. In roles like the Countess in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO the Marschallin in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGEN ONÉGIN and more, she combined insightful acting with nuanced singing and a lovely stage presence to create alluring and memorable performances. An element of Scandinavian reserve in her dramatic and vocal artistry enhanced her work, lending an elusive quality to her portrayals. Reviewing a song recital that Ms Söderström gave at the Frick Collection in New York in 1975, the NEW YORKER critic Andrew Porter perceptively summed up her artistry. Her ‘quick musical intelligence, her vivid and engaging temperament, and a protean voice not exceptionally powerful but well able to compass soubrette mirth and tragic passion have brought her triumphs in a wide variety of roles’.
Anna Elisabeth Söderström made her début as Mozart’s Bastienne when she was just 20 at the Drottningholm Court Theater, on the outskirts of the city, a company she would direct in the mid-1990s. Shortly after her début, she joined the Swedish Royal Opera. She remained a member of that company until her retirement. In her early years she focused on soubrette roles, including Mozart heroines. Soon she was branching out dramatically. Her début at the prestigious Glyndebourne Festival in England came in 1957 as the Composer in Strauss’ ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, and for years she remained a favorite with the festival. Among Strauss singers, she was one of the few to have sung all three lead rôles in DER ROSENKAVALIER: the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie. A milestone in her career came in the 1969-70 season with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, when she sang Mélisande in an acclaimed production of Debussy’s PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE conducted by Pierre Boulez, subsequently recorded. That Sony Classical recording, with George Shirley as Pelléas, is considered by many to be definitive.
Another series of landmark performances and recordings involved the Australian conductor Charles Mackerras, an informed champion of the Janácek operas. Ms Söderström became Mr Mackerras’ soprano of choice for his Decca label recordings of complete Janácek operas, including JENUFA and KATYA KABANOVA, with Ms Söderström singing the title roles, and THE MAKROPULOS CASE, a mysterious, haunting work in which Ms Söderström portrayed, unforgettably, the 300-year-old Emilia Marty.
Among the many contemporary roles she sang were Elisabeth Zimmer in Hans Werner Henze’s ELEGY FOR YOUNG LOVERS and Juliana Bordereau in Dominick Argento’s ASPERN PAPERS for the premiere production in Dallas in 1988. She was also an active song recitalist.
Ms Söderström made her Metropolitan Opera début in 1959 as Susanna in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO. For the next five years, she made regular appearances at the Met, but then drifted mostly to Europe, returning in the 1980s for performances as the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and the Countess in NOZZE DI FIGARO. For her last Met performances, she came out of retirement, essentially, to sing the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME, a dramatically complex and crucial role with scant vocal demands. She received an enormous ovation."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Nov., 2009