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CD: Crotchet

Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
CD 1
Barcarola (1979) [21:30]
Symphony No. 7 (1983-84) [38:21]
CD 2
Symphony No. 9 (1997) [53:36]
Three Auden Songs (1983) [10:33]
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle (Barcarola, 7); Rundfunkchor Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker/Ingo Metzmacher (9); Ian Bostridge (tenor); Julius Drake (piano) (Auden)
rec. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 25 May 1992 (7, Barcarola); Philharmonie, Berlin, 11 October 1997 (9); Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, April 2000 (Auden). DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2376012 [59:52 + 64:11]
Experience Classicsonline

EMI's Twentieth Century Classics line (see below) continues to yield otherwise elusive and rewarding material in return for a small outlay.

Henze towers over European music in a way that is warmer and less intimidating than Stockhausen. While of German birth his music is imbued with a Mediterranean emotionalism. In years gone by you may have experimented with his six symphonies on a two CD set from DG. I reviewed the Accord recording of his Tenth Symphony five or years ago. Now two symphonies issued in the intervening years are gathered in this slim-line set.

The Barcarola is symphonic in mien. It was written in memoriam Paul Dessau, a DDR composer. A long and reflective piece, it has its moments of angry outburst rather like Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem. It at times operates like a Bergian Isle of the Dead although it is richly allusive and its moods are in constant laval flux. The piece ends in a ethereally spectral lull.

The Seventh Symphony is in four fantastic movements. These at times gaze into the chasm. The language is not really dissonant and the lyrical line is always in evidence. There is much that is starrily Bergian - try the magical Ruhig Bewegt (II) - yet not 'difficult'. The nineteenth century German poet Hölderlin is a presence in the last two of the four movements. The third movement seemingly portrays the poet's confinement to an asylum and becomes increasingly hectic, whooping, ringing and groaning. Malcolm Macdonald in his note gets the essentials across in quintessential concentration. He tells us that the finale is evocative of a cold world from which mankind has disappeared. This cauterised planetary desolation is strangely comforting with none of Pettersson's alienation. Instead we get a consolatory singing and a far from self-effacing magnificence of nature. Most impressive. It was a generous and sensible measure to conflate the Henze segment of a Bostridge song anthology with Metzmacher's Henze 9. This conductor recorded a complete Hartmann initially in a series of individual imaginatively programmed mixed orchestral discs and later a complete EMI box of just the symphonies.

Henze's Ninth Symphony is in seven movements and the vocal element is carried by a choir without soloists. Sadly we are not given the sung text in the booklet - really the only substantial criticism of this admirable set. The texts are by Hans-Ulrich Treichel based on a novel 'The Seventh Cross' by Anna Seghers. The texts, rich in allusion, recount episodes in a fugitive's flight from the Nazis. The music surges, rides high on a certain wonderfully eerie ecstasy (Die platane spricht (IV)), evokes cataclysm and horror. It makes for a richly stocked emotional palette. Percussion is used in profuse variety especially in the rattle, scrape and bell-haunted Bericht der Befolger (III). The single largest movement of the seven is Nachts in Dom (VI) at 17:07. In the finale a slow-shifting peace pervades in music somewhere between Delius and Zemlinsky. The last few pages have the choir evoking a golden glow.

The three Auden Songs are English language settings. The music is lyrical, impulsive, pierrot-ghoulish and emotional yet without abandon. Bostridge is at his unaffected finest.

The sound throughout is very clear and carries Henze's music to our ears with eloquence and every appearance of fidelity.

Rob Barnett

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