Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
Hans Werner Henze and the Requiem
CD 1
Nine spiritual concerti for solo piano, concertante trumpet and large chamber orchestra, 1990-1992[67:24]*
CD 2
Miriam Wiesemann in conversation with Hans Werner Henze [49:19]**
CD 3
Miriam Wiesemann in conversation with Hans Werner Henze's friend and assistant Michael Kerstan [42:19]***
Dimitri Vassilakis (piano); Reinhold Friedrich (trumpet)
Bochumer Symphoniker/Steven Sloane
rec. 12 June, 2010, Philharmonie, Essen, Germany. DDD (concerti); 17 August, 2010, La Leprara, Henze's home in Marino near Rom, Italy DDD**,***
CYBELE KIG003 [3 CDs: 67:24 + 49:19 + 42:19]  

Michael Vyner was the director of the London Sinfonietta until his death in October 1989, from AIDS. Less than a year later, Henze lost a second friend, the composer Luigi Nono. These events, presumably together with an awareness of his own mortality - Henze was in his seventies - affected the German composer deeply.
In each case he began to write instrumental music which was eventually expanded into a nine movement Requiem: after Vyner's death, what is now the Introitus; after Nono's, what now comprise the Dies Irae, Ave verum corpus and Lux aeterna - in fact material originally conceived as a piano quintet. Finally, less than a year later, Håken Hardenberger commissioned a trumpet concerto from Henze; that commission - and music written in sorrowful reaction to the first Gulf War - generated music which found its way into the Requiem as the Rex Tremendae, Lacrimosa, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, Tuba mirum respectively.
The nine movements of a work with composite origins, but a totally unified character, as the players here demonstrate, were complete. Its full title remains 'Nine Spiritual Concerti for solo piano, concertante trumpet and large chamber orchestra'; reference to Schütz's Kleine geistliche Konzerte are deliberate … suffering is indeed a private, as much as a public, phenomenon.
From this, it's easy to imagine just how unusual this Requiem will sound, given the more conventional vocal, choral and usually entirely liturgical form which the genre almost always takes. Although Britten had incorporated secular poetry into his War Requiem, also written to commemorate specific events nearly thirty years earlier, it did include texts. None are even implied in Henze's nevertheless atmospheric, moving, approachable and very beautiful work.
It exudes sorrow, regret and a yearning for peace; together with a measure of anger - particularly in the trumpet movements. The framing of the work as a series of concerti is particularly apposite: even in the cases of war and aggression, the suffering is most keenly felt by individuals as individuals. In the case of peace activists, socialists and those opposing prejudice and violence (Henze, Nono's cases) the sense of lone voices and opposing forces - referring to the structure of the concerto from the late eighteenth century onwards - can be acute.
At the same time, there is enough variety - of themes, textures, pace and colour - to make this odd construction powerfully effective. No one movement is longer than nine minutes or so. And Henze's superb skill at orchestration is evident throughout. Given that the piece lasts over an hour, this is a considerable achievement. The members of the Bochum Symphony Orchestra expertly conducted by Steven Sloane are completely in tune with the Henze’s conception. It is reticent almost to the point of withdrawal and forward and urgent where the composer feels the need. It is resigned and 'down' - though with no hint of drabness - as is Henze. Very compelling.
It's to be noted that the titles of the nine movements, although ostensibly and originally those of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, were chosen by Henze as conveying innate qualities appropriate to the wider humanistic 'message' of the work. Day of Wrath, for example, has as much to do with the reaction of the onlooker to torture and state terrorism as divine judgement.
For all the raw anger, regret, resentment and purer sadness, this work is uplifting. The juxtaposition of the two solo instruments (Dimitri Vassilakis' piano and Reinhold Friedrich's trumpet) ensures a sense, if not of hope, of reassertion in the face of trauma of any kind.
There is an alternative version of Henze's Requiem available: with Ueli Wiget, Håkan Hardenberger himself and the Ensemble Modern under Ingo Metzmacher on Sony 58972 dating from 1994 - one year after they gave the first performance. The present release has the bonus of two CDs containing over an hour and a half's conversation between German actor and author Miriam Wiesemann and both Henze, and his friend and assistant Michael Kerstan. Both conversations are in German. In compensation, if you don't speak German, the threefold 'Digipak' is beautifully produced, has a well-written booklet with illustrations of Henze's world, background to his life and the composition of this work as well as full production details. What's more these discs are hybrid SACDs. The sound is superb.
It's a live performance, and one obviously thoroughly appreciated by the audience. The acoustic suits the interpretation. It also honours Steven Sloane's determination to let every bar breathe, speak for itself and contribute to the overall impact. This is so large as to make you want to return to the start as soon as the applause dies away.
Mark Sealey
A strange but strangely captivating Requiem by Henze given a superb and memorable performance with bonuses.