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Pierre HENRY (1927-2017)
La Dixième Symphonie – Hommage à Beethoven: version en 8 mouvements (first sketch 1974)
Benoît Rameau (tenor)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Orchestre Du Conservatoire de Paris
Chœur de Radio France
Le Jeune Chœur de Paris/Marzena Diakun, Bruno Mantovani, Pascal Rophé
rec. 2019, La Cité de la Musique, Philharmonie de Paris
Text and translation of Ode to Joy included.
ALPHA 630 [74:08]

Of all the oddities which Beethoven 250 year has thrown up, this must be the oddest. It isn’t an original composition by Pierre Henry – not a single note is his – but it isn’t Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony, either. That title was assigned to Brahms’ First Symphony by his critics, prompting the reply that any donkey could see the influence. There also was an attempt some years ago to piece together material which Beethoven had been working on at the time of his death as a fragment of a Tenth Symphony. There used to be a CD single of Barry Cooper’s 1988 reconstruction, conducted, if memory serves, by Wyn Morris. I may even have it somewhere, but it has never appealed as much as Deryck Cooke’s reconstruction of Mahler’s Tenth or the ‘completion’ of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony.

Conceived originally in a shorter format in 1979 for three tape recorders, expanded to an eight-movement version, as here, and even to ten movements, all the music is by Beethoven, loosely strung together and given the dignity here of a performance with real orchestras and performers. Henry himself was dead by the time the performance was recorded, so ‘The score has been put together using material left by [Henry] — especially the large panels that strips of cut up scores had been literally pasted onto, but also his notes and, of course, his tapes’.

The composer’s notes in the booklet describe it as ‘dreamlike’; for me, it’s nearer to a nightmare, with Beethoven sometimes made to sound on steroids. I’m sure there will be others who think it brilliant. Henry was hoping that people would ask “Is it Beethoven?” “No, it’s Pierre Henry.” His final description is that ‘It’s an original piece. And a precedent. Or a crime which, perhaps, will set a precedent...’  I hope that it doesn’t create any precedent.

Stephen Blackpool, the tragic hero of Dicken’s Hard Times, frequently exclaims “‘Tis all a muddle”.  Exactly, and it’s not the only muddle that Henry has produced – I dread to think what he has done to Monteverdi in Carnet de Venise, recorded by Harmonia Mundi if you dare to investigate (HMM905324). We haven’t reviewed that, and the ‘Beethoven Tenth’ doesn’t tempt me to try.

The pity is that time and energy were wasted on this project when so much good music doesn’t get a look in – just reflect on what such large forces could have been doing. They could, for example, have been recording one of Paul Corfield Godfrey’s epic scenes from Tolkien’s Silmarillion review of most recent here. Good as the ‘virtual orchestra’ is that’s used there, a ‘real’ performance would be brilliant.

My tutors, long ago, always encouraged me to be even-handed in judgement, and it’s very rare that I write something completely off. This is one of those rare occasions; I just don’t see the point of this pseudo-Beethoven mish-mash.

Brian Wilson

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