PFITZNER: Das Christelflein

To a libretto by Ilse von
Stach, Pfitzner composed music that emphasizes physical beauty, like that of
a winter forest landscape, glittering in silver and green. This subtle score,
however, accompanies an odd libretto that mixes fantastical elements — a wise
old Fir Tree and the elf of the title — with more adult elements, such as an “atheistic” family member who must be converted by a sort of Christmas
miracle (the return to health of a sickly child). If trying to follow this
mish-mash makes it understandable why the piece has not taken a firm hold in
the seasonal repertory, cpo’s recordings still offers a chance to hear some
exquisite music, well-recorded and professionally performed.

As opposed to a “singspiel” such as Die Zauberflote, this “spieloper” interweaves instrumental passages, entirely distinct from the
rest of the score, with a narration (“zwischentext”) and dramatic scenes that
develop into song-like sections. In other words, Das Christelflein
hardly strikes the ear as an opera, or even much of a stage show; rather, it
seems like a musical setting for a series of tableaux. At any rate, cpo
offers a scene by scene synopsis, but no further text, making it difficult to
judge, for a non-German speaker, the impact of the piece. It should be said
that the speaker, Andrea Sokol, has such perfectly clear diction that your
reviewer began to believe he understood her. Though he truly had “keinen
Anhaltspunkt” (“no clue”).

At under 100 minutes, the work holds the attention mostly due to the
appeal of its luscious orchestration, including a piece built around the
classic carol “O Tannenbaum.” The thematic material, other than that song,
makes no strong claims to the listener’s memory. If it did, undoubtedly the
piece would be better known.

Claus Peter Flor leads the Munich Radio Orchestra in a translucent
performance, and he has a most able cast. Most notable is Marlis Petersen,
soprano, who sings the Elf without any mannerisms, staying true to Pfitzner’s
elegant vocal lines. Friedmann Rohlig, who has sung memorably at San
Francisco Opera in recent years, uses his attractive bass to characterize the
old Fir Tree, “Tannengreis,” though the tessitura seems to get a little high
for him in places.

Das Christelflein definitely deserved to be revived for this fine
recording. It may never make it back into the world’s concert halls, even at
the appropriate time of year, but cpo once again proves itself an invaluable
resource for throwing light into dark corners of the repertory.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Hans Pfitzner: Das Christelflein
product_title=Hans Pfitzner: Das Christelflein
product_by=Petersen, R¸ping, Connors, Bauer, Volle, Hˆrl, Rˆhlig, Salter, Sokol, Tˆlzer Knabenchor (Ltg.:Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden), M¸nchner Rundfunkorchester, Claus Peter Flor
product_id=cpo 777 155-2 [2CDs]