Hans Werner Henze (*1926)
Chamber Music Vol. 2
Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge (1983/1996) for bassoon, guitar and string trio
Der junge Törless (1965) for string sextet
Carillon, Récitatif, Masque (1974) for mandoline, guitar and harp
Selbst- und Zwiegespräche (1984/1985) A trio for viola, guitar and organ
L’autunno (1977) musica per 5 suonatori di strumenti a fiato
Ensemble Villa Musica has become a supreme ensemble for chamber music outside the boundaries of conventional trios, string quartets, and quintets. It probes the depths of individual composers, giving us readings suffused with light and understanding, in which virtuosity becomes a silent partner. Its recordings of Hindemith’s sonatas and chamber music, for example, are unmatched, as are its excursions into Reger. This is Volume 2 of Hans Werner Henze’s chamber music, and one is already aware of the special feeling this ensemble has developed for his music. Even more than Hindemith, Henze was a composer of Gebrauchsmusik, music for use by ordinary people rather than highly trained professionals. Both composers wrote music for entire communities, to draw the people together. Henze later rewrote one such vocal project for bassoon, guitar, and string trio, labeling it New Folk Songs and Pastorals. The bassoon replaces the voice, and any presumption of amateur performance has been abandoned. This expressive music is a delight, its seven sections alternately charming, grotesque, amusing, and urgent; seldom has such variety been packed into a 16-minute quintet.
Henze wrote the music for a noted German film, Young Törless, in 1966, scoring it for Renaissance instruments. He later rescored portions of the music into a fantasy for string sextet (three violins, two violas, and cello) which is what we have here. As he kept the film’s title, he may expect the listener to relate the music to episodes in the film—this disc’s program notes do just that—but it works well as a straightforward chamber piece, the four movements assigned classical labels: Adagio, Allegro marcato, Air, Vivace.
Carillon, Recitative, Masque is for mandolin, guitar, and harp. Each word of the title refers to one of its three movements. Commissioned by a television station as background music for early-morning sign-on, the music rings and chimes pleasantly for 12 minutes, as Henze extracts a cornucopia of sonic beauty from the three strummed instruments. The titles reflect the character of each movement. Selbst- und Zweigespräche (“Monologues and Dialogues”) is for an even more unusual trio: viola, guitar, and organ. The single movement lasts under seven minutes. Only Henze could make such a combination work.
Autumn, composed from 1977 to 1979, was Henze’s second wind quintet, incorporating various cousins—piccolo, alto flute, oboe d’amore, piccolo clarinet, bass clarinet, contra-bassoon, and Wagner tuba—in addition to the five basic instruments. Even the contra-bassoon gets an extended solo. As with so many Henze works, there are complex musical associations, dramatic references, and philosophical interpretations associated with the piece, but they can be safely ignored in the light of the magnificent result: a 27-minute wind quintet which belongs with the masterpieces of Nielsen, Hindemith (Kleine Kammermusik), Ligeti (Six Bagatelles), Janáček (Mládí,), and Pavel Haas. This is Henze at his finest, and Ensemble Villa Musica’s sublime performance is an apt conclusion to a wonderful disc. MDG’s recordings are pristine, as always. If you have been put off by the density of Henze’s orchestral writing, this colorful yet subtle chamber music should supply a needed tonic. This is an early candidate for the 2007 Want List.
FANFARE: James H. North
Reviews" MDG's beautifully recorded collection of Henze's chamber music displays the postmodern Henze in a flattering light. At the leading edge of the program is his Neue Volkslieder und HirtengesÃ¤nge, a suite of artificial pastoral songs in the Styrian (Southeast Austrian) style, with a bassoonist playing the vocalist to the accompaniment of a guitar and string trio. The piece began its life as incidental music to an antifascist amateur-theater piece; likewise, Henze's Junger TÃ¶rliss originated as a film score for Renaissance instruments. All of the works here-mostly for small and unusual ensembles-bear this kind of connection to their own past and to Henze's beloved world of the verbal and visual arts. Carillon, RÃ©citatif, Masque for mandolin, guitar, and harp was commissioned by English television to accompany pre-broadcast stills in the morning; the fado-inflected Selbst- und ZwiegesprÃ¤che for viola, guitar, and portatif, started as a score to a Portuguese film. Only L'autunno, a wind quintet, was originally conceived as a concert piece, but even this falls under the rubric of what Henze calls "psychopolyphony", a way of conceptualizing chamber music as a dialectical interaction of psychological states. (The spectres of Schoenberg and Carter, of course, are clearly in the room here.) MDG styles itself an audiophile label, and they do not disappoint -not only are the performances exquisite, but they are gorgeously recorded in the natural, unprocessed sound of great-sounding concert halls." -ARG