Kirill Petrenko

Hans Pfitzner: Palestrina

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Hans Pfitzner, even more than most composers (more publically, at least), was deeply concerned with his legacy as a great artist. He self-consciously regarded Palestrina as his best hope for securing his legacy in the pantheon of the greatest, so he put himself under immense pressure to create an unquestionable masterpiece. He couldn't have picked a more autobiographically apt topic: Palestrina, the 16th century composer on whose shoulders rested the fate of Western liturgical music, based on the success of a Mass he was composing under pressure from the Council of Trent. History has not been unanimous in its assessment of the opera and it has never been part of the standard repertoire, but it's an impressive, sometimes eccentric work, unlike quite any other, and it deserves revival. Oper Frankfurt gives it a bang-up production led by Kirill Petrenko leading Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester. Petrenko gives dramatic shape to the sprawling score, whose long second act consists entirely of a theological debate (with some random slaughtering at the very end), and elicits sumptuous, radiant performances from his players and the singers of Chor der Oper Frankfurt. The soloists are almost all very fine and there are several highly memorable performances, particularly among the lower voices. The whole ensemble of Cardinals is impressively forceful. Wolfgang Koch is outstanding; he brings a powerful, colorful baritone to the role of Cardinal Borromeo, and his characterization is indelibly vivid. Baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle has considerable weight, authority, and rich, ringing tone in the role of the papal legate Morone. Tenor Peter Bronder negotiates the demanding title role with grace and fortitude, but his voice sounds light for a part that seems to cry out for the heft of a heldentenor. The sound of the live performance is mostly good. After a noisy start, the sound gets cleaner, and has clarity and depth.

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