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Henze: Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 & 5 / Janowski, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra

Henze / Brso / Janowski
Release Date: 08/09/2011 
Label:  Wergo   Catalog #: 6723   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HENZE Symphonies Nos. 3–5 Marek Janowski, cond; Berlin RSO WERGO WER 6723 2 (65:49)

The composer recorded his first five symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1964. The excellence of those performances and of Deutsche Grammophon’s recorded sound—along with the symphonies’ failure to break into the repertoire—has kept others from attempting new recordings for nearly half a century. The same is true of Henze’s Sixth (with the London Symphony); most of the later symphonies have accrued multiple Read more recordings—none of them under his baton. (The May 18, 1963, premiere of the Fifth, by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, appears in that orchestra’s 10-CD set Bernstein Live .)

Looking through the Fanfare Archive and a previous decade of Fanfare indexes, I see that I have not been kind to Henze symphonies (nor to their recordings), basically because I think Henze is more successful as a dramatic composer. But each new symphony recording has brought me closer to the fold, and that trend continues. Henze is nothing if not loquacious, and every issue contains many quotations from his speaking and writing; it is best to ignore them all, as he says whatever comes to his mind at the moment, often contradicting former proclamations. It may be true that the Third Symphony was planned as a ballet, and it has been performed as such ( Invocation of Apollo ). The Fourth Symphony is an adaptation of an abandoned section of the opera König Hirsch , and two movements of the Fifth—which may be a portrait of Rome or of New York—quote an aria from the opera Elegy for Young Lovers . In all, the techniques of the past, from sonata-form to dodecaphony, have been absorbed and transformed. Are these really symphonies? Does it matter? They are fascinating, sometimes beautiful music. The Third is brightly scored, ringing with percussion; the Fourth is distinctly ruminative, communing with nature; the Fifth has two aggressive, vivacious movements surrounding a calm Adagio.

Wergo and Marek Janowski are working their way through the symphonies, having previously recorded the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth. I was not pleased with any of those, but these three are better. Both Berlin orchestras play well; some of the solos—saxophone and trumpet in the finale of the Third Symphony, for example—are more incisive with the Philharmonic, but that seems as much due to interpretation as to sheer chops. The differences between the two orchestras show up strongly in the Fifth Symphony; the Philharmonic’s solo oboe in the Adagio is far superior to that of the Radio Orchestra, as are the massed brass in the finale. DG’s recorded sound is pure and superbly well balanced, conservatively distant in a large hall (the Philarmonie); Wergo follows the current fashion of getting up close. Both are excellent in their way; DG emphasizes clarity, Wergo finds both intimacy and excitement. Perhaps I exaggerate the differences: At one point I momentarily lost track of which recording I was hearing, finding intimacy and excitement in the DG Third Symphony.

I slightly prefer Janowski’s Third Symphony to the Henze-led recording, but the shoe is on the other foot in the Fourth. And in the Fifth, except that Bernstein’s premiere blows them both away, not only by the dynamic performance but in the immediacy of its less realistic, occasionally distorted broadcast sound. If you have the DG set of the first six symphonies, there’s no urgent reason to acquire this Wergo disc; if you have the Bernstein Live set, consider yourself doubly fortunate.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3 by Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949-1950; Germany 
Symphony no 4 by Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; Germany 
Symphony no 5 by Hans Werner Henze
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; Germany 

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