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Heinz WINBECK (1946-2019)
Symphony no.1 'Tu solus' (1983/85) [39:00]
Symphony no.2 (1985/86) [57:00]
Symphony no.3 'Grodek' (1987/88) [53:45]
Symphony no.4 'De profundis' (1993) [81:05]
Symphony no.5 'Jetzt und in der Stunde des Todes' (2017) [61:00]
Bruce Weinberger (tenor saxophone) (1)
Christel Borchers (alto) (3 & 4)
Udo Samel (reciter) (3)
Gunter Binge (baritone) (4)
Werner Buchnin (countertenor) (4)
Wolf Euba (reciter) (4)
Konzertchor Darmstadt (4)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Muhai Tang (1)
ORF Radio-Symphonieirchester Wien/Dennis Russell Davies (2)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Mathias Husmann (3), Dennis Russell Davies (4)
Beethoven Orchester Bonn/Dennis Russell Davies (5)
rec. 1985-2017, Munich, Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt
TYXART TXA17091 [5 CDs: 291:50]

It's less than a year since the German composer Heinz Winbeck passed away at the age of seventy-three. He was born in 1946 in the village of Piflas in Lower Bavaria. He studied piano with Magda Rusy and conducting with Fritz Rieger at the Richard Strauss Conservatoire in Munich. He then attended the Musikhochschule in the city studying conducting with Jan Koetsier and composition with Harald Genzmer and Günter Bialas. He later taught there himself after working as composer and conductor at the Theater Ingolstadt. In 1988 he became professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik Würzburg.

After World War II the genre of the symphony diminished in popularity among the avant-garde composers. Heinz Winbeck decided to revive the form, prompted by the need for existential expression. Between 1983 and 2011 he wrote five sizable symphonies, comparable in scale to those by Mahler, whom he greatly admired. They’ve been described as “intense, exciting and uncompromising”. This is the first time all five have been brought together in one recording project, interpreted by internationally renowned soloists, conductors, choirs and orchestras. The recordings span a period of thirty-two years from 1985 to 2017.

The earliest of the symphonies dates from 1983-5 and bears the title Tu solus (You are alone), commissioned by the Südwestfunk broadcasting corporation. The work reveals the composer's admiration for Mahler, especially the Third and Tenth symphonies, which appear in the work as quotes. The Symphony consists of three movements. The opener is bitingly sardonic and acerbically flavoured. Winbeck gives the percussion a dominant role. Then comes a scherzo-like middle movement where chromatic slithers and cascades limn the movement forward. The finale is tranquil and surrounded by mystery, providing  soothing balm. Towards the end piercing shards evoke an Arctic landscape, leading to a cataclysmic ending.

Symphony No. 2, the only one without a title, followed on almost immediately. The Chernobyl disaster and US air strikes on Libyan coastal cities in 1986 profoundly affected the composer, and this fed into the score.  Again in three movements, the first uses clusters of sound to create an atmosphere of disquiet. Five times there are quotes from the first movement of Robert Schumann's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 11 and these drift in and out of the narrative as fleeting glimpses. There's a cheeky playfulness in the dotted rhythms of the central movement. Yet, it’s only in the last movement that a sense of peace reigns. The hymn like opening has a Mahlerian spaciousness. Towards the end, the timpani interject with a militaristic marching beat, leading to a final flourish.

Between 1987-88, Winbeck penned his Third Symphony and, for the first time, added vocal elements into the mix in the shape of an alto and a speaker. The work is built around the lyric verses of the Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887-1914). The poem in question is Grodek, his finest work and probably his last. It portrays the horrors of war. Trakl served as a medical officer on the Eastern Front in World War I and, as a consequence of the agony he encountered, began to suffer serious bouts of depression, resulting in a cocaine overdose at the young age of 27 from which he died. The Symphony is in one movement, though tracked as four sections on the disc. An expanded orchestra is called for, including six percussionists, two kettledrums a saxophone and electric organ. The alto and the speaker narrate the poem throughout. Winbeck shows great skill in integrating all the elements into a convincing whole. Christel Brorchers’s rich alto voice adds greatly to the success of the performance. 

The Symphony No. 4 De Profundis is cast on a grand scale and incorporates vocal soloists, speaker, organ, audiotape, 16-part choir and large orchestra (including four-fold woodwind, eight horns and eight percussionists). Its total length is 81 minutes and it is described in the booklet as ‘oratorio-like’. Its title reflects a deeply intimate event in the composer’s life, namely the death of his mother. So, the work is a personal expression of grief. Death and salvation are realized in a sonic display ranging from orchestral murmurs to cataclysmic coruscations of sound.

It's rather interesting how the Fifth Symphony came about. The conductor, Dennis Russell Davies approached Winbeck with a request to reconstruct the finale of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, which lay in fragmentary state since the composer's death. Davies had found other attempts at reconstruction not entirely satisfactory. What he received from Winbeck was a four-movement symphony instead, with the title Now and at the hour of death. The work is built on Brucknerian motifs and in the third and fourth movements there are quotes from Wagner's Götterdämmerung. Apparently a score of this work lay on Bruckner's piano whilst he was composing the Ninth. Once again, large orchestral forces are called for. Of all Winbeck's symphonies, I found this one the most approachable. Melodic and tonally pleasing, it shuns dissonance. In fact, it sounds to me like the symphony Bruckner never wrote.

All of the symphonies have been expertly recorded and make for a sonic spectacle. The vocal contributions are particularly fine. Tyxart is to be commended for preserving Winbeck's wonderful legacy. I hope conductors will be tempted to explore these interesting and enriching scores for future performance. I must make a special mention of the accompanying annotations, in German and English, which are thorough, detailed and informative. 

Stephen Greenbank

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