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Henze: Symphonies 1 & 6 / Janowski, Berlin Radio Symphony

Henze / Janowski
Release Date: 11/12/2013 
Label:  Wergo   Catalog #: 6724   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HENZE Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 Marek Janowski, cond; RSO Berlin WERGO 67242 (61:19)

With this disc, the fourth in the series, Janowski is almost through the 10 Henze symphonies; only numbers Two and 10 remain. In previous reviews ( Fanfare 32:5, 33:5, and 35:3) I have not been kind to either Henze’s symphonies or Janowski’s performances. Much of the latter was due to superior performances and recordings: Leonard Bernstein in the Fifth Symphony, Sylvain Read more Cambreling in the Seventh, Markus Stenz in the Eighth, and both Kurt Masur and Ingo Metzmacher in the Ninth. Here, however, competition comes solely from the composer’s own recordings, the First Symphony a 1964 live performance with the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Sixth a 1972 studio recording with the London Symphony.

Henze’s First Symphony, written in 1947 when he was 20, was revised in 1963. One of its four movements was removed and two others totally rewritten; that was the version Henze recorded. That score was labeled “für Kammerorchester,” but it remains a potent ensemble (harp, piano, and celesta replace bassoons, trombones, tuba, and percussion). In 1991 he made further, minor revisions, and I believe that is what Janowski plays (I have no score). In 2005, Henze rewrote the Symphony yet again, this time for 15 instruments, calling it Kammerkonzert 05 . Janowski’s opening Allegretto, con grazia is considerably slower than Henze’s, but both performances work well. Janowski’s “Notturno” is not only slower but far more beautiful, as Henze’s Philharmonikers seem unable to relax. In the Finale, however, Henze is crisp and dynamic, whereas Janowski’s reading, at only a slightly slower tempo, refuses to coalesce. The analog stereo DG recording has an elegant sheen, but the typically conservative Wergo digital recording is truer to the instruments, particularly the lower strings.

Contradictions reign in the Sixth Symphony as well. While the First is a comparatively lyrical, tonal work (despite Henze’s later inclusion of a few 12-tone lines), the Sixth, supposedly written for the masses in Communist Cuba, is filled with avant-garde swoops, bleeps, and pops. Despite the presence of the London Symphony—then as now one of the world’s great ensembles—Henze’s performance comes off as a series of impressive, sometimes beautiful noises. Janowski somehow turns them into music, making a convincing Symphony of the whole. There’s too much distraction in London—one virtuoso riff after another; Janowski finds the music’s essential core, perhaps intentionally subduing all the emblazonry. The honest but always conservative Wergo recording reinforces that point. I had previously relegated the Sixth to an irrelevant side niche in Henze’s oeuvre ; now one can hear the way toward his potent, almost Beethoven-like Seventh. One must admit that, having finally appreciated the music, Henze’s wild performance and DG’s vibrant recording (in London’s Brent Town Hall) become all the more exciting. It is best to have both recordings on hand, which also solves the problem of inconsistent movements in the First Symphony.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 6 by Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; Germany 
Symphony no 1 by Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947/1963; Germany 

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