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Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
Guitar Music 1
Royal Winter Music (Second Sonata on Shakespearean Characters) (1978/79) [18:53]
Drei Fragmente nach Hölderlin¹ (1958) [10:23]
Drei Tentos (1958) [5:35]
Selbst und Zwiegespräche²³ (1984/85) [12:22]
Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesängeº (1983/96) [12:42]
Franz Halász (guitar), Colin Balzer (tenor)¹, Débora Halász (piano)²,  Gottfried Schneider (violin)º, Sophia Reuter (viola)³º, Sebastian Hess (cello)º, Karsten Nagel (bassoon)º
rec. Bayerischer Rundfunk, Studio 2, Germany, 24-25 November 2003, 19-20 January 2004
NAXOS 8.557344 [59:54]


Hans Werner Henze, who turned 80 on 1 July 2006, has a rich and varied production behind him. This spans large-scale symphonic works to operas and ballets and covers every conceivable genre in between. That he also devoted himself extensively to the guitar may come as a surprise to many, but this elusive instrument obviously played an important role in his creativeness, not only as a solo instrument but also in chamber music. Among the solo works the Drei Tentos (Three Attempts) have found a revered place in many guitarists’ repertoire. These are three small pieces that are quite easily accessible and could be a good starting point for listeners so far unacquainted with Henze. On a much larger scale are the two Sonatas on Shakespearean Characters, of which number two begins this disc and number one will I hope appear before long. Both works were prompted by Julian Bream, who wanted something on the scale of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata. They may not be of the same dimension but are certainly taxing works. Together they portray nine Shakespearean characters (there are six movements in the first sonata), beginning with a mad king and ending with a mad queen.
 
There is a certain feeling of the Elizabethan age about the sonata, even though Henze never yields to sheer pastiche. One still gets an impression of his having listened to Dowland, at least in the first movement, depicting Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Twelfth Night, the gullible knight whose hair Sir Toby describes: “it hangs like flax on a distaff, and I hope to see a huswife take thee between her legs and spin it off”. The second movement, Bottom’s Dream (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is dreamlike while the final movement, Mad Lady Macbeth, is a quite different proposition. In dissonant chords her maliciousness is painted graphically. Towards the end her galloping madness produces a high-strung finale. This is music that grows in stature with every hearing. I very much look forward to hearing the first sonata. The accomplished Franz Halász, with an impressive discography already behind him, plays it formidably and the technical intricacies are no obstacle for him.
 
In the remaining pieces he plays a more secondary role, but the accompaniments to Drei Fragmente nach Hölderlin need an attentive and flexible player and there seems to be a natural rapport between singer and guitarist. There are references to both Dowland (again!) and Britten. The vocal part is a challenge with its range of two octaves and its atonal language with wide leaps. Colin Balzer singing is not only technically spotless but invested with innate feeling for nuance and extremely beautiful tone. Much of the music is atonal but it is still melodically attractive, even though these are not exactly tunes that you walk away humming. Interestingly Henze indulges in a lot of melismatic writing, bridging the gap between the 1950s and Hölderlin’s time (the poet was born the same year as Beethoven, 1770).
 
Looking back is also what Selbst und Zwiegespräche (Monologues and Dialogues) does, through a romantic harmonic language. It is for viola, guitar and organ; the organ part is here performed on piano. Henze instructs the musicians to play their parts as solos as well as in combination with the others. Thus the piece, as performed here, is in six movements; first the piano, then the viola (very romantic!) and the finally the guitar play solo, then the viola and the guitar get together and then the viola and the piano. Here we get a harsher, more dissonant language whereupon they all get together for a lush final trio.
 
The final piece, Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge, is also the most recent, created in 1996 but drawing on material from the musical play Oedipus der Tyrann from 1983. Here he uses Austrian peasant songs and boils a spicy, meaty, thrilling pot which preferably should be consumed with a good stout. This is burlesque, good-humoured and alert music, full of rhythmical felicities, featuring the bassoon. Karsten Nagel’s playing is wonderfully assured with quite the finest bassoon tone I can remember. There are seven movements, several of them very short, and the last but one, Abendlied (Evening Song) is a dark piece with partly energetic machine-like accompaniments. Taken as a whole this is great entertainment.
 
With good recorded sound from Bavarian Radio, a fine essay on the music by David Truslove and great playing from all involved this is a varied and fascinating birthday homage to Henze. It can be confidently recommended.
 
Göran Forsling
 

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