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Hans Werner HENZE (1926-2012) 
Sinfonie für Kammerorchester (1946/47, rev. 1963, 1991) [20:49]
Sinfonia N. 6 für zwei Orchester (1969, rev. 1994) [40:16] 
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Marek Janowski 
rec. 28-29 August 2012 (Sinfonie für Kammerorchester); 8-9, 11 June 2012 (Sinfonia No. 6) Rundfunk, Berlin-Brandenburg, Haus des Rundfunks, Sendesaal 1, Germany
WERGO WER67242  [61:17]

This release follows three other volumes of Hans Werner Henze’s symphonies from Wergo, with Nos. 3, 5, 7, 8 and 9 already released at time of writing. This particular CD has been reviewed fulsomely by Michael Cookson.
 
My reference for Henze’s symphonies is likely to be the same as everyone else’s, for some time one of the only few sources from Deutsche Grammophon - reviewed elsewhere on these pages in its reincarnation on Brilliant Classics. Simon Rattle’s EMI recordings are also worth looking out for (see review). The DG London Symphony Orchestra recording of the Sixth Symphony conducted by the composer is a classic, and is a monumental event in its own right. The recording catches Henze’s details of orchestration to startling effect, complete with amplified banjo and wobble-boards, dramatic shifts of perspective through manipulation via loudspeakers, and an often uncompromisingly violent expressive/expressionistic pallet. This is strikingly modernistic stuff, but you always sense the firm hand of control of a master behind the representations of chaos and disturbance.
 
This Wergo release needs to challenge its DG ancestor in as many of these respects as possible, and we do get close. This recording is also highly detailed, the acoustic smaller and the perspective not quite as grand in scale and with reduced spotlighting of the less familiar instruments. This provides a more natural, concert-hall impression, but loses something of the theatricality of Henze’s own conducted version, for all its artifice of balance and heightening of effects. The tough uncompromising nature of the music shines through in this case through the quality of the playing, and you sense an orchestra entirely at ease with this idiom - indeed, each section relishing and laying into their realms of extreme performing whether wildly splashing around or subtly contributing little brushstrokes of momentary expressiveness. The brass group stands out, as they always will, but they always come up with the goods and maintain acute accuracy and discipline. Each woodwind glissando and plucked string is placed with conviction and accuracy, and if the levels of visceral excitement are less extreme as with the DG original this Berlin Radio version creates a new and extremely potent reference.
 
Henze described the original version of his 1. Sinfonie as filled with “weaknesses and inadequacies … an ill-conceived, frivolous and infantile composition”. The revised version is one in which “everything is new, different and better”. As an earlier work there are still influences which touch on Stravinsky and others, but the virtuoso sweep of Henze’s musical canvas demonstrates a voice already well on its way to greatness. Marek Janowski’s tempo in the opening movement is surprisingly slow, timed at eight minutes to Henze’s 5:50. We are talking about a performance with revisions made in 1991, and a comparison between this and the 1963 version of the score would in all likelihood reveal reasons for these changes. The playing is better and the ensemble cleaner in this new recording, but the energy of the original is however substituted for something with an almost Brucknerian stateliness by comparison. Janowski’s timings are broader in general, but it is in the opening movement that the transformation is most apparent. The final allegro con moto is also less urgent sounding and this version shaves off about half a minute compared to the DG recording; in a movement of between five and six minutes is not insignificant. The contrast here is more one of mood where Janowski is more eloquent and poetic, deepening the expression but missing out a little on spots where Henze conjures an almost jazzy feel.
 
Composers are not always the perfect conductors of their own music, and the refinement of performance on this Wergo recording is superb. I would also be the last to want carbon-copy performances of previous examples, and Jankowski’s powerful interpretations can very easily stand in their own right. For true aficionados of Henze’s music the composer’s classic recordings on DG will however remain a significant source, and this Wergo release, while raising the standards in terms of performance, won’t kick those originals into redundancy.
 
Dominy Clements 

Previous review: Michael Cookson


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