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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS MDT

Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
Hans Werner Henze and the Requiem
Disc 1
Requiem - Nine Spiritual Concerti (1990-92) for solo piano, concertante trumpet and large chamber orchestra [67:24]
Disc 2
Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Hans Werner Henze [49:19]
Disc 3
Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Michael Kerstan [42:19]
Reinhold Friedrich (trumpet), Dimitri Vassilakis (piano)
Bochumer Symphoniker/Steven Sloane
Requiem rec. live, Philharmonie Essen, 12 June 2010
Interviews recorded at H.W. Henze’s house in Marino, near Rome, 17 August 2010
CYBELE RECORDS 3SACDKiG003 [3 SACDs : 67:24 + 49:19 + 42:19]

Experience Classicsonline

This release is volume three in Cybele’s landmark Artists in Conversation series, previously represented by Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Complete Works with String Quartet and Hans Erich Apostel’s Complete String Quartets. With this series the makers Mirjam Wiessemann and Ingo Schmidt-Lucas aim to ‘build a bridge to the man behind the work, and his milieu.’ This latter is as wide ranging as possible, and with a living composer the opportunity is there to go in depth into aspects of the circumstances of their work in depth, something which with surviving archival material is always left to the chance of history. All of these releases are accessible references for now and the future, and in interviewing Hans Werner Henze and his friend and assistant Michael Kerstan, Mirjam Wiessemann has created a unique contribution to our understanding of Henze’s life and work.

The piece around which this 3 disc set gravitates is the Requiem. This remarkable work has only been recorded once before in a 1994 release conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, and as this is no longer commercially available this new release is a valuable one. The piece is dedicated to Michael Vyner, director of the London Sinfonietta. With a chill, I realise I happen to be writing this on 19th October, the date of his death in 1989 at the age of 46. I turned 46 on the 18th. Henze began work on the Requiem not long after Vyner’s death, and found himself attending the funeral of Luigi Nono almost immediately after the first movement had been premièred at a concert for Vyner. The rest of the work soon took shape, many of the subsequent movements having their origins in two significant works from the same period, the Piano Quintet and Trumpet Concerto. Without going into the content of every movement, the work uses the titles of the Missa pro defunctis for each of its nine movements, the instruments used to convey the composer’s personal associations and responses to their Latin names. The opening Introitus is the Concerto in memoriam Michael Vyner, and it stands as a passionate and refined memorial, far ranging in its relatively brief span. Emotions throughout the Requiem range from the ‘day of wrath’ violence of element in the Dies irae to the absolute tenderness of the Agnus Dei, represented by eleven solo strings and a piano, the strings in particular redolent of the voices of victims of suffering. The dark moods represented are sometimes remarkably specific, the Rex tremendae seeing the solo trumpet take on the role and ‘Incendiary speech of a [terrible] ruler.’ Violence and turmoil are never far away in this piece, and although Henze states “I aimed to write a piece that would be more beautiful than life itself”, the beauty is not one of holy sanctuary. Henze’s challenging intensity and high-impact orchestration remain strong features throughout. The Tuba mirum for instance, richly scored with brass instruments and percussion, contrasts terror and remorseless ant-humanity with moments of gargantuan ‘sheer military’ bombast.

We are emotionally softened up by the overt images of human suffering in the penultimate Lacrimosa, the solo trumpet in particular expressing agonies of pain. The way is thus made for the final Sanctus, which is the most immediately moving section of the piece. This has three trumpets, with the SACD surround used effectively to place the additional two instruments at rear right and left as they would be placed in performance. Henze thought of the trumpets “as a way of raising the roof and revealing a Tiepolo-esque sky…” There are moments of hymn-like simplicity, undulating restlessly as if subject to constantly shifting tides. The trumpet eventually leads us into a state of euphoria and a final triumph, “Sacred is man, sacred is life.”

As usual, my abilities in the German language are tested more than somewhat with the conversation discs, but as ever Hans Werner Henze is an inspiring personality. To digress for a moment, I did meet him once when he came to give some masterclasses at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Gathered into small groups of composition students, we had one session at a very pleasant address not far from Harrods in Knightsbridge, and I was fortunate enough to be in the last group of the morning, and invited to stay for lunch. Henze was kind and attentive, interested in work far removed from his own intense and expressive language. He sounds a good deal older now as might be expected, though was still a bit of a lad even in the 1980s. During our lesson he would regularly go to the French windows and take draughts of fresh air to counter a wicked hangover from the previous night’s untold quantities of fine wine amongst good company. I can’t comment a great deal on the content of this and the other conversation disc, but the amicable and informal atmosphere of the talks, with their backdrop of occasional domestic background noises, make for pleasant and informative listening. The access point titles give an indication of the topics covered. In CD 2 Henze deals with each movement of the Requiem, and goes on to items including The Mystery of What Is Truly Beautiful and The Secret to a Successful Life. The conversation with Michael Kerstan on CD3 allows is to see Henze from a different perspective, in the third person as it where, and includes their working collaborations, historical views, personal crises and triumphs.

Henze’s Requiem proves itself an unjustly neglected contemporary masterpiece, and is performed superbly by the musicians on this recording. I can imagine some moments might be a little tidier, but more importantly than studio perfection the SACD sound is excellent, and recreates both an electric live atmosphere and the stunning detail and remarkable sonorities in Henze’s scoring. The spatially placed trumpets towards the end are a real surround-sound treat and an inspiring musical moment. The booklet is filled with useful text and a myriad of photos. Cybele has produced yet another highly desirable and historically significant document, not to be missed by library archives and collectors alike.

Dominy Clements


























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