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Hans Werner HENZE (b.1926)
Violin Concerto No.1 (1946) [26:57]
Violin Concerto No.3 (1997) [33:24]
Fünf Nachtstücke (1990) [9:09]
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
Aaron Shorr (piano - Nachtstücke)
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. 16-17 September 2004 (Concerto No.1), 14-15 September (Concerto No.3), Große Sendesaal, Saarbrücken, Germany. Fünf Nachtstücke rec. 12 December 2004, Potton Hall, Suffolk.
NAXOS 8.557738 [69:30]

Henze has written three violin concertos, separated by a period of fifty years. In this, the year of his eightieth birthday, Naxos present the First and Third and add the Five Night Pieces, written for the violin soloist here, Peter Sheppard Skærved. This has the advantage of avoiding a direct comparison with Dabringhaus und Grimm’s full price release of all three concertos on MDG 601 1242-2 which does spill over onto two CDs lasting eighty-six minutes in total.
The First Concerto dates from 1946. It shares little commonality with the concerto of Henze’s older German contemporary Wolfgang Fortner, which was written the following year. Maybe there’s a shared Bergian inheritance but Fortner’s neo-classicism finds no reflection in the twenty-one year old Henze’s plan. This is an admixture of Berg and Hindemith with perhaps some trace of Bartók as well. The ruminative and the abrasive are not always well digested and there are some moments of youthful posture and some note spinning. It’s a much better work when Henze evocatively presents orchestral string cushions and in the dialogues between the soloist and the orchestral sections. The highly rhythmic finale with the soloist’s pizzicati and double stopping are all highly effective but in this performance things seem to hang fire too often. There’s a distinct lack of internal dynamism, maybe a desire to inflate the concerto beyond its natural constraints as well. Even in the ghostly waltz sections things tend to misfire. Certainly if one listens to the MDG soloist Torsten Janicke, abetted by the alert Magdeburg Philharmonic under Christian Ehwald, we hear a more lithe and incisive performance. And unless my memory is failing me the Henze directed 1968 recording with Wolfgang Schneiderhan (in the multi-volume Henze Collection boxed set DG 4498602) was also that much more directional and structurally sound.
The Third Concerto draws on Mann’s Doktor Faustus for its literary-narrative inspiration. A three movement work, unlike the four movement First, it was written in 1997 but underwent revisions in 2002.  This performance is again considerably slower than the rival MDG. There are hints of Bach and Berg in the opening suffused with those abrupt conjunctions of exceptional lyricism and brusque outburst that are so much a part of Henze’s lexicon. The hallucinatory incidents in the Esmeralda movement – ghostly castanets – are vividly realised. And the Bergian lament in the central movement conjoins with a powerful martial episode of implacable drama. Such things as the open fifths of the finale do point inevitably to the Berg Concerto though I find that the violin’s parade of soloistic tricks, not least in the cadenzas, is a rather knowing appropriation of the language of the romantic concerto. A tighter rein on proceedings might have helped dissipate or at least modify this point of view. At too many points I felt the performance lacked focus.
The Five Night Pieces are compressed but evocative sound pictures, freely lyrical in part and aggressive in others. The dedicatee is on hand to play them with surety and control.
The playing indeed is unfailingly eloquent and the orchestra under Lyndon-Gee plays with considerable power and command. No problems with the well balanced recording either. My preference however very much remains the MDG, albeit at full price.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Dominy Clements 


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