NORMAN LEBREH | Germany’s time has come to solve its problems with Hans Werner Henze


Hans Werner Henze: Night Plays and Arias (Naxos)

★★★★ ☆

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It’s time for the Germans to deal with their greatest modern composer. While Berlin is playing heaps of Rome, and Munich is lying in Orpheus, the life and work of Hans Werner Henze are considered too recent and controversial to be admitted to bourgeois concert halls. Of the nine symphonies – two of them masterpieces – none were performed by major state orchestras. We are in 2022, and Henze is dead for ten years. Of course, it is time for the Germans to deal with their problems with Henze.

Raised in a Nazi family, Henze became a communist and gay. In 1953 he left West Germany to live predominantly in Italy. While part of his work was openly agit-drunk – his oratorio Che Guevara Jellyfish raft and his opera We approach the river – most of them were high-octane music of rare intensity, which occupied a space that is modern, but not doctrinally serial.

The three works of this album are samples of different creative periods. The Night plays for soprano with orchestra, dated 1957, inspect the lunar landscape, both calm and disturbing. Whims 1963 reflects the composer’s immersion in the Mediterranean atmosphere. The English songs about love 1985 is a rhapsody for cello and orchestra, inspired by English poets.

Marin Alsop conducts the Vienna ORF Orchestra with soprano Julian Bans and cellist Narek Ahnazaran as excellent soloists. Not so often do I spend an hour of modernism and remain wanting more, but that’s how convincing Henze can be. He is a composer of the highest skill and sensitivity, but outside of Vienna, which recently restored one of his operas, nowhere seems ready to embrace him. This is more than a shame. This is a German disgrace.

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