Henk BADINGS (1907-87)
Symphony No 4 (1943) [35:40]
Symphony No 5 (1949) [25:45]
Bochumer Symphoniker/David Porcelijn
Recorded in RuhrCongress, Bochum August 27-31, 2012
CPO 777 669-2 [61:31]
I don't remember ever hearing any music by Henk Badings but I do recall reading Alan Ridout's book A Composer's Life in which he says that he learned more from Badings than from his various other teachers and that he thought highly of his music. A major reason for Badings' neglect is his
alleged compliance with the Nazis and their Kulturkammer during the German occupation, but after being ostracised from the professional music scene he was reinstated in 1947. He was virtually self-taught as a composer, though he did receive advice from Willem Pijper, the leading Dutch composer at that time. This amounted to “give up ...”. Badings also worked extensively in the area of electronic music and with microtonality – reflecting his Indonesian upbringing (he was born in Java). A Badings Festival was held in Rotterdam in 2007 but his name is surprisingly absent from numerous books on the symphony. Some comments apropos these symphonies have alluded to film music, but I am never quite sure what this is intended to mean – vividness, immediacy? If so, that's fine by me, as long as it's not Hollywood schmaltz. In any case, Bading does not sound any less symphonic.
Traditional in form and tonal language, the Fourth Symphony is a very communicative, accessible piece and for this Badings was taken to task by a well-known critic. How this accessibility compares with Badings' other 1,000+ pieces I cannot say, but this music does impress me with its honesty. The slow introduction, immediately engaging with its gravitas and expectancy, leads to an Allegro beginning with a very Hindemithian theme. One really impressive aspect of Badings' writing is his masterful orchestration – especially his extrovert writing for brass – through which his attractive ideas are presented with satisfying clarity and effectiveness. There are moments when I feel the invention flags, or when there is a dangerous flirtation with banality, but these are very few. A biting scherzo follows, with a lyrical trio and a fugal passage incorporated into the scherzo reprise. The slow movement (Largo e mesto) is deeply expressive without being indulgent and again occasionally reminiscent of Hindemith, though only momentarily. An incisive finale concludes the work, though this incorporates a broad theme introduced by the strings and a reminiscence of material from the second movement.
Listening to the Fifth Symphony, I am left wondering why the accessibility of its predecessor seemed to stand out, because that quality is no less obvious here. According to the composer, all the principal motifs of the symphony are contained within the introduction. This slow introductory section leads to an Allegro launched by a strongly rhythmic, syncopated idea. There is some anger here, I feel. After the first movement has ended quietly the scherzo imposes itself with – again - a well-defined rhythmic character. In the middle of this movement I was prompted to think of Malcolm Arnold and there is certainly a comparable directness about Badings' music generally. The Largo is yearning, reflective and dignified, whereas the finale is one instance where I find the actual substance less inspired and definitely slighter than the means of expressing it – that is, the striking orchestration and what one might the embellishment or “clothing”.
The German-based company CPO is some way (eight of the fifteen symphonies) into recording all of Badings' orchestral music. Without citing national stereotypes, I can say that this music was not what I expected. It also may well surprise many other listeners too. Having played this CD at least five times, I am very glad to have heard some Badings after such a long interval, especially in these generally good performances. Unless you are exclusively interested in tough, challenging modern music, I would recommend this CD.