WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Henze: Piano Concerto No 2 , Telemanniana / Plagge, Markson

Release Date: 04/11/2000 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 999322   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Hans Werner Henze
Performer:  Rolf Plagge
Conductor:  Gerhard Markson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northwest German Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

This title is currently unavailable.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

HENZE Piano Concerto No. 2. Telemanniana Gerhard Markson, cond; NW German PO; Rolf Plagge (pn) CPO 999 322-2 (61:42)

This disc makes it into the Classical Hall of Fame for two reasons. First up, it stands as a representative of all those “second recordings” of major new works; that small but manfully brave sub-group of releases that, at their best, manage to give great music a gentle shove on its way towards wider acceptance. Secondly, it represents the risky but admirable Read more policy of the CPO company to go repeatedly into obscure territory and emerge triumphant, thanks to the searing commitment of their artists and their high technical standards. If it weren’t for CPO, we would still be in blissful ignorance of most of the symphonic output of Milhaud, Toch, Wellesz, Frankel, Villa-Lobos, Saygun, Searle, and Antheil (to name only a few), and would not have had an opportunity to re-evaluate the music of Sallinen or Panufnik. Their Panufnik series, currently drawing to a close, has been nothing short of revelatory.

Now that Hans Werner Henze (1926–2012) is no longer with us, and no longer able to oversee the general reception of his music––which he did rigorously––we are in a position to pick and choose the works from his oeuvre that may enjoy some longevity. This is less straightforward than it sounds. Over the course of his career the composer went through a variety of stylistic periods, often greatly influenced by outside events and non-musical sources. When the two works on the above disc were premiered (both in 1967), Henze was on the cusp of his most controversial period. He was beginning to produce highly politicized statements, usually critical of conservative regimes and in praise of Marxist ideals (particularly those associated with the Cuban revolution), in the form of the cantata The Raft of the Frigate Medusa , or the song cycles Versuch über Schweine and El Cimarrón . At the same time as he was attempting to write works that appealed to the downtrodden and the working class, his musical language was––ironically––at its most dissonant and fragmentary: that is, at its least accessible to the layman. Many of the pieces he wrote during this period are so intrinsically linked to the political Zeitgeist (including the three mentioned above) that they now seem little more than historical artifacts––but, as the disc under review shows, we would be wrong to write off an entire decade of Henze’s work for that reason, because the Piano Concerto No. 2 turns out to be a masterpiece. A vast Concerto lasting almost 50 minutes––the polar opposite of the early neoclassical Concerto No. 1––it pits a solo piano ranging from high virtuosity to deep introspection against a multicolored and multilayered orchestral tapestry. Various influences abound, including Japanese gagaku music, contained in a rhapsodic yet satisfying two-movement structure that is thoroughly grounded in the symphonic concerto tradition. It is a work of big ideas, rather than big gestures, necessarily; a musical journey displaying the complexity and textural variety of a Mahler symphony. A few years later, Henze might have incorporated tape, electronics, or other such avant-garde devices into a piece of this size (as he did with his 1973 work for piano and orchestra, Tristan ), but fortunately, his Second Piano Concerto was conceived entirely in instrumental terms.

It was recorded by DG in 1969 in a performance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Christoph Eschenbach directed by the composer. As significant as that recording is––and there is nothing tentative about it, quite the opposite––it took digital sound and the more fully integrated performance on the CPO disc to cement the work’s stature. Recorded in 1997 and released in 2000, Markson and Plagge’s sweeping traversal of Henze’s vast soundscape never puts a foot (or a finger) wrong. It places the Concerto well within the mainstream where it belongs––unlike Henze and Eschenbach’s rendition, which tends to be episodic and self-consciously “Modernist,” over-emphasizing individual musical incidents. A different perspective, after all, is the job of second recordings and here it is achieved perfectly.

Markson’s coupling is of Henze’s enjoyable orchestral arrangement of music by Telemann ( Telemanniana ): also a second recording, I believe, and certainly an improvement in every way on the earlier one by Gerd Albrecht on a Koch disc.

I suppose it is perverse of me and probably against the rules to submit an out-of-print disc to Fanfare ’s Classical Hall of Fame, but these recordings have a way of coming back. Besides, with all the secondhand shops online, it is easy enough to track down a copy. As for the older Henze/Eschenbach version, it was long unavailable but has reappeared in a 16-disc box set from Deutsche Grammophon. That set includes Oliver Knussen’s recording of the ballet Undine and Christoph von Dohnányi directing the opera Der junge Lord (both unmissable), as well as Henze’s own performances of his first six symphonies and many other works. Be warned, though: The DG set contains no librettos and no explanatory notes on the music whatsoever.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott    
Read less

Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 by Hans Werner Henze
Performer:  Rolf Plagge (Piano)
Conductor:  Gerhard Markson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northwest German Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; Germany 
Telemanniana by Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Gerhard Markson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northwest German Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; Germany 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title