So impressive has been the set of Hans Werner Henze’s complete Symphonies on Wergo (see review of final release
) that Musicweb International really need also to comment on a number of other Henze Wergo releases. The three discs reviewed here were issued in 2001-04.
WER66372 comprises four works spanning a thirty-six year period from 1955 to 1991. The Drei sinfonische Etüden für großes Orchester
was premiered in its first version in February 1956 by the Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, Hamburg under Jean Martinon. In 1964 Henze revised the score which was performed that year at the Maida Vale Studios, London by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the composer’s baton. Henze uses extended serial techniques. These are not employed rigidly and their use is described in the composer’s notes “as a grammar with which one could work creatively and freely.” I found the style impenetrable when I first encountered Henze’s music in a live performance by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer in the early 1980s at BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester. Now, giving reasonable concentration, I can gain considerable rewards. Movement one (Echos
) inhabits a mysterious and rather eerie soundworld. I was struck by the shifting blocks of sound and wide dynamics. The writing feels particularly complex in movement two (Stimmen
) with its notable build up of tension. Especially marked in the unruly movement three (Rufe
) are the unexpected tempi shifts and broad dynamics.
Henze wrote his Quattro Poemi für Orchester
in 1954-55 during the time he was working on his opera König Hirsch
(King Stag). It was premiered in May 1955 by the Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks under Leopold Stokowski at Frankfurt-am-Main. This was a time that the London-born Stokowski was touring Germany instructing orchestras and audiences about contemporary German music. Henze recalled that he didn’t even get to meet Stokowski as he was fully engaged teaching at the Darmstadt summer school. Later Henze heard a recording of the performance and felt that Stokowski had not understood the work at all. The four poems are not programmatic but the titles suggest a descriptive element. The first poem, titled Elogio
, has a cool starkness whilst the second (Egloga
) is mainly bold, brassy and frequently dramatic. The generally calm third poem (Elegia
) contains an unsettling undercurrent. The fourth poem (Ditirambo
) with its rather congested soundworld is notable for its loud brass-dominant passages.
Written in 1957 Nachtstücke und Arien nach Gedichten von Ingeborg Bachmann für Sopran und großes Orchester
was originally based on an idea for a semi-staged chamber opera on a Cocteau text for Darmstadt. Controversy marked the premiere in October 1957 held at Donaueschingen with soprano Gloria Davy and Hans Rosbaud conducting the Südwestfunk-Orchester. This is Henze at his most melodic. He explained that composers Boulez, Nono and Stockhausen openly walked out of the concert after the first fifteen measures because “At the time there was a lot of aggression in the music world to modernism.” The five movement score contains three Nachtstücke
(Night Pieces). In between are two beautiful and highly accessible arias setting verse by Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-73). Opening the score is the stark and coolly emotional Nachtstücke I
. This evokes for me floating ice packs in Arctic waters. Soprano Michaela Kaune creates a dreamy atmosphere in the Aria I Wohin wir uns wenden im Gewitter der Rosen
(Wherever we turn in the storm of roses). This setting concerns the lingering effects on nature caused by World War II predominantly atomic warfare. I found Nachtstücke II
memorable for its strong sense of bustling activity and forward momentum, together with its scurrying woodwind figures. Aria II Freies Geleit
(Safe Passage) concerns the effects of manmade destruction and is about conserving the beautiful earth for generations to come. Beginning with the words Mit schlaftrunkenen Vogel
(With birds drowsy with sleep) the piece is splendidly sung by Kaune and with considerable expressive force aided by flexible attractive tone and clear diction. The effect of the final Nachtstücke III
is rather cinematic. It’s a mainly unsettling work with scurrying woodwind figures contrasted with episodes of relative calm. Wergo goes to the trouble of translating the substantial German-speaking interview between Henze and conductor Peter Ruzicka into English. Disappointingly, they do not provide English translations of Ingeborg Bachmann’s German poems. The translation fragments I have provided were prepared for me by a friend.
The final work is La selva incantata - Der verwunschene Wald: Aria und Rondo für Orchester
. This is an arrangement Henze transcribed in 1991 from his opera König Hirsch
. The premiere was given April 1991 at Frankfurt-am-Main with Hans Drewanz conducting the Frankfurter Opern und Museumsorchester. Henze tells us that the music taken from the Aria section of König Hirsch
was the most beautiful thing he had composed. In this colourful and highly dramatic music it’s not difficult to imagine a mystical, enchanted forest scene. This is one of Henze’s most gratifying scores and would be an ideal place to start for those new to Henze’s symphonic music.
All three scores were recorded in 1999 at the Studio 10, Funkhaus Hamburg des NDR. The engineers for Wergo have excelled with satisfying sound, being clear, immediate and well balanced.
The second Wergo disc was released in 2003. Composed in 2001 Scorribanda sinfonica sopra la tomba di una Maratona für Orchester
is based on material from the dance drama/ballet suite Maratona
for jazz combo and symphony orchestra. This dates from 1955-56 and was produced for the director Luchino Visconti. Henze said “it contains no more than a few traces of jazz.” Then recently have taken residence in Italy he also said of the work that it “corresponds to my new feeling about life.” Scorribanda sinfonica
was commissioned and premiered in June 2001 by the NDR Sinfonieorchester under Peter Ruzicka the conductor here. Opening loudly with considerable drama this is a type of concerto for large symphony orchestra with constant and often rapid changes of mood and orchestral colour. Drama sweeps through the score forcefully and rarely subsides.
Henze’s Antifone für Solostreicher, Bläser und Schlagzeug
was written in 1959-60 straight after the opera Der Prinz von Homburg
(The Prince of Homberg) from 1958-59. Here Henze returns to atonalism and does so with structural rigidity. He strives to create antiphonal contrasts by unusual seating arrangements for the players and by intensifying the diverse colours of the instruments. The premiere was given in January 1962 in Berlin by the Berliner Philharmoniker under its dedicatee Herbert von Karajan. I can still recall attending a performance of Antifone
in 1987 at the BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester given by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Elgar Howarth. Presented here in a single movement span Antifonie
is cast in four continuous sections with the strings always having the major voice and initiating the ideas. A cool beauty predominates which is not untypical of Henze. There is also rapid-moving writing and a plethora of interesting if not always appealing sounds. At that 1987 Manchester performance I found Antifone
extremely testing but rewards are obtainable with reasonable perseverance.
The concluding work here is the three movement Konzert für Klavier und Orchester
written in 1950. By this time Henze had already written two other soloistic works for the piano the Kammerkonzert für Flöte
, Klavier und Streicher
from 1946 and the Concertino für Klavier und Blasorchester mit Schlagzeug
from 1947. At the time Henze describes seriously studying and being influenced by Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto from 1942. Pianist Noel Mewton-Wood the dedicatee gave the premiere in September 1952 in Düsseldorf with the Städtisches Orchester Düsseldorf conducted by the composer. The opening movement Entrée
is strongly lyrical with confident pianist Christopher Tainton often having to propel his way through a wall of dense and driving orchestral sound. Over twice the length of the outer movements the Pas de deux
inhabits a mysterious sound-world with the piano at times in danger of being swallowed up by the power of the orchestra. The Finale
contains stormy music of forceful energy conjuring the image of an eagle soaring across and through constantly changing landscapes.
All three works were recorded in 2001 at Studio 10, Funkhaus Hamburg des NDR and the engineers for Wergo have provided clear and well balanced sound with a pleasing presence.
WER 66632 was issued in 2004 and comprises five pieces. The Ballett-Variationen. Handlungsloses Ballett für großes Orchester
from 1949 is one of Henze’s earliest orchestral works. The previous year Henze had become captivated by a series of Frederick Ashton productions by the London Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company held in Hamburg. These — Stravinsky’s Scènes de Ballet
and César Franck’s Variations symphoniques —
were a significant inspiration behind the Henze work. The virtuosic part for solo piano in the Henze score serves as a homage to the Franck. In 1992 Henze revised the Ballet Variations and went on to make a rewrite in 1998 and that is what we hear. The premiere of the original was given in 1949 at Düsseldorf with the 1998 version being premiered the same year at Berlin with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Giuseppe Mega. In six contrasted movements, the first marked Allegro con brio
contains plenty of forward momentum together with angry grinding bursts of action. The piano dominates the short second movement Allegretto con grazia
with its swaying orchestral rhythms. Bold and furious brass dominate the short Vivace
which is heavily percussive with swirling woodwind figures. Marked Allegramente
movement four consists of light, calm and agreeable writing that gathers aggressively in weight and volume. The fifth movement a Valse lente
is a type of haunted waltz with an disquieting undercurrent. The Finale
. Allegro maestro
at five and a half minutes is the lengthiest movement and opens with a striking trumpet call. This is fresh outdoor music of a questing character with a prominent piano part at 3:31-4:14. The writing increases in weight and tension as it approaches its dramatic close.
The Concertino für Klavier und Blasorchester mit Schlagzeug
is an early work composed in 1947. Henze said the idea for it came to him during a tram ride in Stuttgart. It draws inspiration from Milhaud, Sauguet and Poulenc. The premiere was given in October 1947 by pianist Carl Seemann and the Südwestfunk-Orchester under Werner Egk at Baden-Baden. Movement one, an Allegretto
is predominantly light and jaunty until points 1:24-1:40 when the passive mood is cast aside by a dramatic climax. Conspicuously introduced and closed by low rasping brass chords the central Allegro pesante
offers largely agreeable music interspersed with sudden, sharp bursts of energy. Throughout I felt the writing was depicting landscapes as seen through the window on a train journey complete with stops en route. With its highly percussive and vigorous opening the Finale
: Molto Vivace
makes quite an impression and is followed by rapid runs from Christopher Tainton’s piano. Not a conventional concerto where the piano is given a highly virtuosic role the writing leaves an impression of bold, brass-dominated music of considerable energy.
The next work has a convoluted and rather off-putting title Das Vokaltuch der Kammersängerin Rosa Silber, Exercise mit Strawinsky. Ballettmusik über ein Bild von Paul Klee
(Vocal Fabric of the Singer Rosa Silber. Exercise with Stravinsky. Ballet music on a painting by Paul Klee). It’s a 1990 revision of a ballet score from 1950. Henze took the ballet title from a Paul Klee painting Das Vokaltuch der Kammersangerin Rosa Silber
and dedicated it to the composer Boris Blacher. The concert premiere was given in May 1951 at the Titania-Palast, Berlin with Ferenc Fricsay conducting the RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester. The first performance of the ballet was given in October 1958 at the Städtische Bühnen, Cologne conducted by Siegfried Köhler. Henze revised the score in 1990 adding the subtitle Exercise mit Strawinsky. Ballettmusik über ein Bild von Paul Klee
(Exercise with Stravinsky. Ballet music on painting by Paul Klee.) It was Henze who conducted the Parnassus Ensemble at the premiere of concert performance of the revised 1990 version in January 1991 at the Barbican, London. In six sections this work is a patchwork of colour. I loved the trombone melody at the start of the Introduction
followed by calm woodwind figures over strings. Although it has a slightly eerie feel this is beautiful music. Upbeat writing and contrasting moods characterise the Pas d'action
and the bold and lively Variationen A und B
has marked tempo variations. In the Intermède
serious and dark-toned strings take centre-stage and at 1:35 a forlorn trumpet intones. A dark and eerie disposition prevails in the Pas de deux
with attractive woodwind melodies serving to ease the unsettling character of the music. The bold and lively Conclusion
is suffused with restlessness.
Another early work the Kammerkonzert für Klavier, Flöte und Streicher
(Chamber Concerto for Piano, Flute and Strings) was written in 1946 and bears a dedication to Henze’s teacher the composer Wolfgang Fortner. Henze referred to the Kammerkonzert
as “my first more or less successful composition” It was Fritz Straub who conducted the Orchester des Landestheaters Darmstadt at the premiere in September 1946 at Darmstadt. The soloists were Kurt Redel (flute) and Carl Seemann (piano). Agreeably lyrical and romantic with a distinctly pastoral character in the manner of Vaughan Williams I doubt this work if heard blind would be recognised as being by Henze. The opening Lebhafte Halbe
is appealing, sunny and uplifting with Matthias Perl’s flue and Christopher Tainton’s piano alternating the lead. A calm and gentle mood opens with the piano in the central movement Rezitativ und Arie
. At points 1:07-2:04 and 3:22-4:20 a truly beautiful bucolic melody on the solo viola comes to the fore over the piano and flue parts. Impishly vivacious in the Finale
: Sehr lebhaft
the piano regains domination assisted by the darting flute part.
The final score on this disc is Sinfonische Zwischenspiele aus dem lyrischen Drama
’. In 1951 Henze wrote his one act lyric drama/opera in seven scenes Boulevard Solitude
. It’s to a text by Grete Weil based on the 1731 novel Manon Lescaut
by François Prévost. Boulevard Solitude
, Henze’s first work fully realised for the stage was premiered in February 1952 at the Landestheater, Hannover conducted by Johannes Schüler. Henze said “I noticed that music produced by human voices and human bodies has a much more direct impact than ballet.” Recorded here are the four Symphonic Interludes (Intermezzos
), premiered in 1952 at the Niederrheinisches Musikfest at Aachen. Angry timpani strokes open the dark-hued music of Intermezzo I
. This soon retreats into austere beauty and a quiet yet uneasy calm. Intermezzo II
evokes a clear night sky yet with an unsettling undertow. This quickly develops into a loud and weighty full-blown rage. The initial calm never returns. In Intermezzo III
the string writing is struck through with a sense of foreboding that threatens to explode at any moment. With real determination the volume quickly builds in Intermezzo IV
with brass resolute and in the vanguard. This concludes with a thunderously dramatic climax. All five scores were recorded for Wergo in 2002/03 at the Rolf-Liebermann-Studio, Hamburg. Once again we are treated to pleasing sonics that are clear and nicely balanced.
I suspect that these Henze releases may have been missed by many outside Germany. Recorded at the Funkhaus Hamburg des NDR and the Rolf-Liebermann-Studio, Hamburg there is no need to worry about the sound quality. It is eminently satisfying on each of the three discs. The music of Hans Werner Henze is marvellously served by the stunning playing of the NDR Sinfonieorchester under Peter Ruzicka. All sections of this splendid orchestra respond consistently with commitment and sensitivity. These impressive performances are a very reasonable sampling of Henze’s orchestral output. Lovers of mid to late twentieth century music will be in their element.