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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Dominy Clements