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Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
Adagio, Fuge und Mänadentanz (1965, arr. 2004) [25:18]
Nachtstücke und Arien (1957)a [22:58]
Symphony No.8 (1992/3) [25:08]
Claudia Barainsky (soprano)a
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Markus Stenz
rec. Studio Stolberger Strasse, Köln, December 2004 (Symphony No.8); (live) Philharmonie, Köln, March 2006 (Nachtstücke und Arien) and May 2006 (Adagio, Fuge und Mänadentanz)
Experience Classicsonline

Henze’s opera Die Bassariden (1965) was one of his great successes. Never one to waste a good idea, Henze is used to re-cycle material from some of his works. So, for example, La Selva incantata (1991), Quattro Poemi (1955) and his Symphony No.4 (1955) all draw on his second opera König Hirsch (1953/6). Similarly, he drew a couple of orchestral works from Die Bassariden: Mänadenjagd (once available on DG 4471152 with Claudio Abbado conducting the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester) and the rather more substantial suite Adagio, Fuge und Mänadentanz (2004) recorded here. The suite was assembled to comply with a request from Christoph von Dohnànyi who conducted the world premiere of the opera. The substantial and strongly expressive Adagio leads straight into a mighty Fugue depicting Pentheus’ fatal approach to Dionysus and his death at the hands of the Bacchae. The final Mänadentanz actually has nothing to do with the aforementioned work recorded by Abbado but is based on Pentheus’ aria upon his own death. The whole amounts to a substantial orchestral piece full of typical Henze hallmarks and colourfully scored in Henze’s own brand of Expressionism.

The first performance of the somewhat earlier Nachtstücke und Arien (1957) caused a scandal since Boulez, Stockhausen and Nono ostensibly left the hall after hearing just the first few bars at its first performance in Donaueschingen. Henze’s expressionist lyricism was probably too much for them as was the beauty of much of the music. The work consists of three Nocturnes framing two settings for soprano and orchestra of poems by Ingeborg Bachmann. If the first of Bachmann’s poems (Im Gewitter der Rosen) fits into a nocturnal cycle, the second (Freies Geleit) deals with a more tangible and immediate concerns – at least at the time the work was composed – and that was the nuclear menace of the Cold War: “Die Erde will keinen Rauchpilz tragen” (“The earth does not want to carry a mushroom of smoke”). The second Nocturne is rather more troubled and uneasy, more of a nightmare than a peaceful dream. The second Aria is a plea for the preservation of Nature and the survival of Man endangered by nuclear menace. The final Nocturne is again rather troubled, alternating furious outbursts and more reflective episodes. It ends with a loud, menacing peroration abruptly cut short. From the very first time I heard Nachtstücke und Arien many years ago, actually during the LP era, I was convinced that this was one of Henze’s finest scores. Its lush, almost Straussian scoring was miles away from the prevailing trends of the time: strict, often ascetic serialism and the like. Here too was a composer who was not afraid to steer clear of any all-too-dry formalism and rather was willing to emphasise the communicative and expressive power of music. This fairly recent, superbly played and recorded reading fully reinforces that early impression; and I was delighted to renew acquaintance with this magnificent score.

From the earlier stages of his prolific composing career, Henze – unlike many of his colleagues – showed a particular affinity to the genre of the symphony. That said, it was quite clear that Henze’s symphonies no longer imitate the 19th Century symphony. It is remarkable enough that his first five symphonies were composed between 1947 and 1962 in fairly quick succession. The Sixth Symphony for two chamber orchestras stands somewhat in isolation since it was written during a period in which political concerns were informing some of his music. Although purely instrumental, the Sixth Symphony’s “political message” was suggested by some Afro-Cuban music and by quotes from a piece by Theodorakis as well as a Vietnamese folk song. Eventually, one could sum up the situation by paraphrasing words by Louis Andriessen: I quote from memory: “Is there any such thing as a proletarian B sharp minor or a capitalist D major?” With the notable exception of the Ninth Symphony for chorus and orchestra to texts by Hans-Ulrich Treichel, Henze’s later symphonies do not carry any such “message” although Symphony No.8 has a subliminal programme: Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, or episodes from it. Eventually, though, “this is about making peace and about reconciliation, fraternisation, also with myself, and the gesture for it comes from one who loves and searches for peace” (Henze). The first movement alludes to the scene in which Oberon challenges Puck to search for the magic flower, and thus depicts Puck’s journey, albeit in a non-programmatic way. In the second movement Titania attempts to seduce Bottom turned into a monkey. This is reflected in two different types of music suggesting Bottom’s “oafish coarseness” (solo trombone) and Titania’s delicate physiognomy (strings). The third and final movement was in fact written first and attempts a reconciliation of sorts. The symphony, however, may be experienced in purely abstract musical terms and without any knowledge of what might have prompted its composition. One way or another, the Eighth Symphony is attractive and readily accessible and repays repeated hearings.

While preparing this review, I re-listened to all of Henze’s symphonies and was struck by something that had not always appeared clearly to me - that Henze might well be the heir of Karl Amadeus Hartmann. I say this bearing in mind his non-dogmatic approach to the genre and the overall sound of his music, although Henze also sometimes lets echoes from Stravinsky creep in; none the worse for that. Henze’s ten symphonies form a remarkable and substantial body of work that is now available complete in recordings, albeit from different sources.

The present performances are superb and the recording serves Henze’s opulent scoring well. This release (or re-release for that these works have been available on Capriccio 5548259) is a must for all admirers of Henze’s music. Even so, I am sure that many others would find much to enjoy here.

Hubert Culot

Henze’s symphonies on disc

Symphonies 1-6          DG 4767234
Symphony No.7          EMI CDC7547622
Symphony No.8          Phoenix 113
Symphony No.9          EMI 5565132
Symphony No.10        Accord 4767156


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