Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
Guitar Music - Vol. 2
Full track listing at end of review
Franz Halász (guitar)
1Anna Torge (mandolin), Cristina Bianchi (harp)
2ensemble oktopus/Konstantia Gourzi
rec. Studio No. 2 Bayerischen Rundfunk, Munich, Germany; 5-6 May 2007 (Royal Winter Music), 5 November 2008 (Carillon) & 25 November 2003 (Fairy Tale Pictures). Ode, live, Grosser Saal, Musikhochschule, Munich, 7 November 2004
NAXOS 8.557345 [70:24]
Henze recordings don’t come my way very often, but when they do I’m reminded of just how versatile a composer he is. There are also fine DVDs of his best stage works; L’Upupa und der Triumph des Sohnesliebe (Euroarts) is a treat for the eye and ear, and there’s an unmissable Ondine from Covent Garden, with Miyako Yoshida in the name part (review).
The first instalment in this Naxos series of Henze’s guitar music was warmly welcomed by GF – review – so I had high hopes for this follow-up. And while I usually grumble about the variable sound quality of discs from this source, the Naxos collaboration with Bavarian Radio suggests this could be a notable exception.
There are two sets of pieces based on characters from Shakespeare, written a few years apart; the first is presented here (Guitar Sonata No. 1) and the second (Guitar Sonata No. 2) is included in Vol. 1 of this series. The German guitarist Franz Halász is the soloist in both. The portrait of Richard, Duke of Gloucester finds our villain in ruminative mode; Halász’s tone is warm and clear, and he’s not too closely miked. The unsettling rhythms drummed on the body of the guitar and the dissonances evoke the duality of Richard’s persona, the ‘bottled spider’ who blends outward charm with webby intrigue. All very different from the gentle, almost improvisatory, pick and strum of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and the impish antics of ‘Ariel’, from The Tempest.
Halász is a thoughtful and engaging musician, keenly attuned to the subtleties and colours of this piece; indeed, the gossamer lightness of Ariel’s music is beautifully realised, as is the inwardness of the doomed ‘Ophelia’ from Hamlet. There’s conflict, too, in the portrayal of ‘Touchstone, Audrey and William’ from As You Like It; here the music is slightly knottier and more confrontational, while that of ‘Oberon’, the fairy king from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is altogether more ethereal. Throughout there’s a pleasing scale to Halász’s playing that seems entirely right for sketches made with such economy and skill. A delightful work in every way.
In Carillon, Récitatif, Masque, Halász is joined by Anna Torge on the mandolin and Cristina Bianchi on the harp. Certainly the guitar and mandolin can work very well together, as I discovered in my recent review of music from the Duo Trekel-Tröster. There the latter instrument’s astringency is a foil to the guitar’s more honeyed tones. Added to the harp they produce an enticing array of textures, the music now terse now lyrical, but always appealing. The harp sounds quite luminous in ‘Récitatif’, the lower strings resonating with satisfying woodiness, the upper ones wonderfully liquid. And what a delectable, good-natured bounce this trio brings to ‘Masque’.
The fairy-tale pictures, based on music from Henze’s opera Pollicino, make up a charming triptych; there’s no explicit programme here, the enclosing Moderato and Molto meno mosso warmly expressive, the central Allegretto played with point and sparkle. True, the emotional and dynamic range of these pieces isn’t particularly wide, but Halász shades and shapes what’s there with sensitivity and style. The recording is less spacious than before, but it’s perfectly adequate.
As expected the balance is rather different in Ode to an Aeolian Harp, recorded at a live concert. In the first movement the vibraphone adds a spooky shimmer to the mix that had me thinking of soundtracks to early SF movies. As for the innocent query in ‘Questions and Answers’, the answer may indeed be blowing in the wind, but it’s not a very reassuring one. The guitar takes a more prominent role in ‘To Philomena’, but much of the musical weight is carried by the band, which includes bongos and tom-toms. Halász’s solo playing in ‘To Hermann’ is adroitly done – proof that, unlike the ill-fated Gloucester, he is indeed ‘shaped for sportive tricks’.
A real mix of music here, ranging from the very accessible Shakespeare portraits and fairy-tale pictures to the somewhat austere sound-world of the Ode. In a sense it’s a bit like those artfully conceived concerts, where a tougher main work is preceded by more palatable ones. Don’t be tempted to leave the hall too soon, though, for this is a most rewarding disc from start to finish. Factor in decent sound – even in the live concert, which includes a smattering of applause – informative liner-notes and a super-budget price tag, and you have a winner.
A real mix of music: very accessible to somewhat austere. A most rewarding disc from start to finish.
Full track listing:
Royal Winter Music, ‘Guitar Sonata No. 1’ (1975-1976) [31:31]
I. Gloucester [6:58]
II. Romeo and Juliet [3:02]
III. Ariel [7:05]
IV. Ophelia [2:44]
V. Touchstone, Audrey and William [3:55]
VI. Oberon [7:47]
Carillon, Récitatif, Masque (1974)1 [10:07]
I. Carillon [6:11]
II. Récitatif [2:18]
III. Masque [1:39]
Drei Marchenbilder aus Pollicino (Three Fairy Tale Pictures from ‘Pollicino’) (arr. for guitar by Reinbert Evers) (1980) [5:51]
I. Moderato [1:36]
II. Allegretto [1:38]
III. Molto meno mosso [2:37]
Ode an eine Aolsharfe (1986)2 [22:55]
I. An eine Aolsharfe (To an Aeolian harp] [6:39]
II. Frage und Antwort (Question and Answer) [3:54]
III. An Philomene (To Philomena) [4:50]
IV. An Hermann (To Hermann) [7:31]