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Hans Werner HENZE (1926-2012)
Being Beauteous cantata based on the French prose poem from the suite Les Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud for coloratura soprano, harp and four cellos (1963)
[14.55]
Kammermusik 1958, setting of the Friedrich Hölderlin hymn In lieblicher Bläue (In Lovely Blue) for tenor, guitar and eight instruments (1958, with additional movement added 1963) Version with string orchestra. [48.45]
Anna Prohaska, soprano (Being Beauteous)
Sophia Whitson, harp (Being Beauteous)
Peter Gijsbertsen, tenor (Kammermusik)
Jürgen Ruck, guitar (Kammermusik)
NDR Sinfonieorchester/Peter Ruzicka
rec. 25 January 2013 (Kammermusik); 3 May 2015 (Being Beauteous)
Rolf-Liebermann-Studio des NDR, Hamburg, Germany
Sung French and German texts without translations
WERGO WER73342 [63.54]

Symphonie No. 7 (1983/84) [36.13]
Sieben Boleros (1998) [20.07]
Ouvertüre zu einem Theater (2012) [05.03]
Die blaue Stunde from the opera L' Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (2003) [03.47]
Gürzenich Orchestra Köln/Markus Stenz
rec. 21-23 January Studio Stolberger Straße; 5-8 October 2013 Philharmonie, (Symphonie No. 7) Köln, Germany
OEHMS OC446 [65.48]

Hans Werner HENZE
Complete Music for solo guitar
Drei Tentos, aus Kammermusik 1958 [6.47]
Royal Winter Music:
First Sonata on Shakespearean Characters (1975/76) [42.02]
Second Sonata on Shakespearean Characters (1979) [23.33]
Andrea Dieci (guitar)
rec. 5 October 2014, 25 April, 23 May 2015 Cappella dell'Immacolata, Collegio Rotondi, Gorla Minore - Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95186 [72.32]

In some circles Hans Werner Henze was regarded as one of the pre-eminent composers of the 20th century. Born at Gütersloh in Westphalia, Germany Henze in 1953 took up residence in Italy, initially in Ischia and at the time of his 75th birthday his home was in Rome. Throughout his career Henze immersed himself in a variety of compositional approaches both retrospective and progressive, becoming acknowledged for a time as one of the European avant-garde, although he didn’t follow the new fashions in composition and avant-gardists began to regard him with suspicion. Henze composed works in many genres, although his passion for literature and music theatre inspired him to become one of Europe’s foremost opera and ballet composers. Central to Henze’s output are his ten symphonies composed between 1947 and 2000. In the mid 1980s I recall attending a couple of performances of Henze’s symphonies played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, works that I then found challenging. One concert was actually under the composer’s baton and the other was conducted by Elgar Howarth, both at the BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House in Manchester.

Wergo
The Wergo label has long championed the music of Henze, with a series of releases featuring the ten symphonies with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Marek Janowski together with a number of other orchestral works including some with vocal accompaniment. This release is made up of two major works for orchestra with voice Being Beauteous and Kammermusik 1958.

The cantata Being Beauteous is based on the prose poem from the cycle Les Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud for coloratura soprano, harp and four cellos. Henze wrote the score in 1963 shortly after returning from the United States after seeing the evidence of social inequality, especially the prosperity and poverty that existed in the Manhattan and Harlem districts of New York. In Arthur Rimbaud’s text to Being Beauteous Henze was able to see certain similarities to the struggle between abundance and decay in the New York situation. There is a sense of solitude to Henze’s lyrical writing that feels elusive and vulnerable, becoming warmer and generous whilst remaining eminently compelling. Anna Prohaska is an extremely talented soprano not afraid to tackle complex and lesser known works. In Being Beauteous she is in stunning form, singing with a gloriously broad expression, aided by crystal clear diction. Prohaska revels in the challenges of the writing, soaring to and comfortably inhabiting the high resisters. The quartet of cellists plays superbly, with rich tone and deeply felt expression together with the harp which adds to the captivating effect.

The second work on the release, Kammermusik 1958, is in thirteen movements incorporateimg a setting of Friedrich Hölderlin’s hymn ‘In lieblicher Bläue’ (In Lovely Blue). Henze was inspired to lay out his thoughts on paper during a trip to Greece, with the Mediterranean vista and its culture combining with Hölderlin’s veneration of the classical era. Three of the movements are for guitar only, three movements are orchestral and six movements are for tenor solo with chamber or orchestral accompaniment. Dedicated to Benjamin Britten, whose music Henze admired, the guitarist Julian Bream and tenor Peter Pears performed at the première given in 1958 at Hamburg. In 1963 Henze composed an additional thirteenth movement, the purely orchestral Adagio, as a new Finale. Although Henze’s work is more complex and dissonant, not surprisingly the sound world of Britten’s Serenade is never far away. In 2012 Wergo released a recording of Henze’s original work for tenor, guitar and eight instruments. Presented here is the stated première recording of Kammermusik 1958 with the string parts expanded for string orchestra. Soloist Peter Gijsbertsen is in compelling form displaying his smooth expressive tenor with assurance and guitarist Jürgen Ruck engages admirably with the score.

Conductor Peter Ruzicka, a twentieth-century music specialist as well as a composer, has full measure of these challenging often elusive Henze scores. One of the finest orchestras in Germany, NDR Sinfonieorchester performs with unwavering precision and expression, presenting a glorious tapestry of sound. Recorded at Rolf-Liebermann-Studio des NDR, Hamburg, the sound team for Wergo impress, providing first-rate clarity and balance. The album booklet contains both Rimbaud’s French text to Being Beauteous and Hölderlin’s German text to In lieblicher Bläue from Kammermusik 1958. No translations of the texts are provided which is a real disappointment although they can easily be Googled.

Oehms
On the Oehms label the Gürzenich Orchestra Köln under Markus Stenz has released a recording of Henze’s Seventh Symphony considered by some to be his finest symphony. Also contained on the disc are three other significant orchestral works Sieben Boleros, Ouvertüre zu einem Theater and the short orchestral epilogue Die blaue Stunde - Tableaux 11 of his opera L' Upupa.

Around fifteen years elapsed between completion of the Sixth Symphony and the Seventh Symphony. Henze wrote the four movement score for large orchestra during 1983/84 around the time he finished his opera Die englische Katze (The English Cat). Henze found inspiration in the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin and also in aspects of the German poet’s life. Gianluigi Gelmetti who conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker in the première of the Seventh Symphony in December 1984 at the Philharmonie, Berlin. Titled Tanz (Dance) the opening movement feels sharply angular with forward leaps, developing an angry and unruly character. Described by Henze as “A kind of ode of mourning, a lament, a monologue” the beginning of the beautifully flowing second movement has an airless feel, with a recurring sense of weightlessness. A prominent oboe duet sings a curious lament before the writing increases in heft, becoming angry then returning to the muggy atmosphere and the sense of floating. Gathering in pace and weight the music belches out a series of hostile outbursts. Inspired by Hölderlin’s mental illness and subsequent detention in an asylum the third movement, with its steely grinding quality, has a chilling coldness that must surely represent the poet’s torment. The Finale is a depiction in orchestral music of Hölderlin’s poem Hälfte des Lebens (Half of Life) which like the poem is in two divergent parts. According to Henze the opening section is a vision of a “deserted, cold, and speechless world”, containing an icy, bone-chilling sense of a bleak and inhospitable land. The highly agitated and dark second section becomes increasingly angry and suddenly stops. Helpfully the text to Hölderlin’s poem both in German and in English is contained in the booklet notes. In recordings of the Seventh Symphony the primary competition to this Oehms account is from the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Maestro Janowski played with unyielding directness. Janowski recorded the score in 2007 at the Jesus Christ Church, Berlin/Dahlem on Wergo.
 
Composed in 1998, the set of Sieben Boleros (Seven Boleros, for large orchestra) was premièred at Las Palmas in 2000. The pieces can be discerned in different instrumentations from his opera Venus and Adonis. Each Bolero has an evocative title and is the composer’s very personal impression of Spanish music. With a saxophone and colourful percussion especially prominent, Henze’s varied pieces are full of energy, vivid colour and Spanish atmosphere, but not in the direct manner of say Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat or Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Especially enjoyable is the gathering intensity and considerable agitation of La irascible (The Irascible). Pleasing too is the swirling orchestral power of La soberbia (The Pride) and the determined, colourful and exotically percussive El gran paso de la Reina Arábica (The magnificent dance steps of the Arabian Queen).

Completed in 2012 the last year of Henze’s life the Ouvetüre zu einem Theater (Overture for a theatre) is the last work he wrote. Commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the Deutsche Oper Berlin the work also marks the composer’s ten years of artistic association with the house. Full of incident and resolution the colourful overture leads to a stirring conclusion. The final work on the release unfortunately misdescribed in the booklet notes as the L' heure bleue - Serenade for 16 instruments (2001) is actually Die blaue Stunde (Mysterium) the vividly appealing concluding tableaux 11 of his opera L' Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (1999/2003). As a consequence the incorrect work is described in Nobert Hornig’s booklet essay.
 
Under Markus Stenz, another twentieth-century music specialist, the Gürzenich Orchestra Köln responds to Henze’s music with really compelling concentration together with a satisfying unity. With regard to sound quality the Seventh Symphony recorded at Kölner Philharmonie comes out well, being clear and well balanced. The other three works recorded at Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln are also pleasingly recorded containing good presence and clarity.
 
Brilliant Classics
This Henze release from Brilliant Classics, titled complete music for solo guitar played by soloist Andrea Dieci contains three works regarded by some as miniature masterpieces. Opening the programme is Drei Tentos from Kammermusik 1958, a work inspired by Henze’s life in the Mediterranean, notably in Greece. These charming miniatures, lasting just under seven minutes, were originally interludes for solo guitar inserted between movements of his Kammermusik 1958 for tenor, guitar and eight instruments.

For some time soloist Julian Bream had been trying to persuade Henze to write something substantial for the guitar, an instrument that the composer deeply admired. The fruit of this encouragement was his Royal Winter Music which is made up of two substantial sonatas for solo guitar. Henze was inspired to translate various protagonists from the texts of Shakespeare into character portraits. Composed in 1975/76 in the First Sonata on Shakespearean Characters the opening section ‘Gloucester’ contains writing full of agitation and disharmony derived from the calculating Richard of Gloucester’s famous soliloquy “Now is the winter of our discontent.” The ‘Romeo and Juliet’ section mirrors the famous balcony scene; from The Tempest, ‘Ariel’ represents the spirit of the air and ‘Ophelia’ from Hamlet could signify mental instability, sadly entering the brook and drowning. ‘Touchstone’, ‘Audrey’ and ‘William’ depict aspects of these secondary characters from As You Like It and in the final section Oberon, the king of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is represented by luxuriant and rather flowery music of fluctuating mood.

Written in 1979 the Second Sonata on Shakespearean Characters developed rather differently from the First Sonata. There are three sections: the first, given over to the humorous Sir Andrew Aguecheek, from Twelfth Night is steeped in irony; ‘Bottom’s Dream’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a sticky, rather heavy atmosphere. The thrilling final piece ‘Mad Lady Macbeth’ contains unyielding tension and drama representing the Queen’s tormented state.

Andrea Dieci plays impeccably providing a lovely blend of precision and expression, creating plenty of atmosphere. There is a directness of communication in these guitar pieces which produces a compelling emotional response. If this music appeals Henze also wrote several works for two guitars that are worthy of investigation. Detailed notes by Carlo Lo Presti are especially helpful for this generally unfamiliar music. Recorded for Brilliant Classics at Cappella dell'Immacolata, Collegio Rotondi, Gorla Minore, the engineering team achieve satisfying sound quality, consistent and clear.

Michael Cookson
 

 

 




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