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ClassicsOnline Home » HENZE: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 / 5 Night-Pieces
Written fifty years apart, the two beautifully conceived and executed Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 bear the hallmarks of the same, powerful artistic personality. Both works brilliantly explore a range of emotions from nightmare and anguish to musing melancholy. The Five Night- Pieces were composed for Peter Sheppard Skærved and Aaron Shorr, who perform them here.
By James H. North
American Record Guide
This release follows on the heels of last year's MDG recording of all three Henze violin concertos (Nov/Dec 2005). The second is a vaguely political and overtly theatrical work; the other two are often said to be the closest Henze comes to the pure abstraction of absolute music. The first dates from 1948, when Henze was barely 21, and its lyrical vastness and confident use of Bergian dissonance belie the composer's youth to an astonishing degree. The third appeared nearly half a century later (1997) and sketches in three movements the important supporting characters from Mann's Doktor Faustus: the hero Leverk�hn's syphilitic lover Esmeralda; his innocent nephew nicknamed "Echo", felled by meningitis; and his closest friend, the violinist Rudi Schwerdtfeger.
Overall, this performance is much, much better, but MDG's recording is superior to Naxos's boxy, muddy sound. Lyndon-Gee softens the young Henze's sharp elbows and takes fantastically slow tempos in the later work�half again as long as the MDG recording! Skaerved, a close associate of Henze, has an intense, throaty tone and plays with considerable bravura and maturity.
Naxos fills out the disc with a set of five 'night pieces" for violin and piano that was written for these performers in 1990. They are refreshingly concise for Henze, lasting one to three minutes each, with nary a wasted note. Skaerved and Shorr have clearly been living with them for long enough to understand them perfectly. And as a bonus, the sound is better for these pieces, though quite artificial.
By Julie Williams
This is another offering from the broadening Naxos contemporary repertoire stable which takes in the specially commissioned string quartet series from Peter Maxwell Davies. Henze has not been neglected; there is a companion volume to this disc, devoted to Henze�s guitar music.
The two violin concertos given here are separated by just over fifty years. One is a youthful but remarkably assured work from the composer's early years, the other a mature development of a recognisably similar artistic voice. The movement titles of the Third come from Thomas Mann's novel Dr Faustus. There are helpful introductory notes written by the conductor.
The sound-world of these works is lean and muscular, recognisable from the composer's middle symphonies particularly. It is ascetic and complex, one of Henze's closest influences being Stravinsky. Although they might be considered challenging listening by anyone except contemporary music aficionados, they are both beautiful and intellectually stimulating and repay the listener's effort with dividends.
Henze is perhaps best known for his personal history. He was a reluctant German conscript held by the British at North Sea Camp as an enemy alien. He became an outspoken critic of his native country, choosing after the war to make his home in Rome and to champion the Left; his sixth symphony was premiered in Cuba to trade union members. He is a prolific composer, writing in a diverse range of forms - symphonies, concertos, chamber music, opera and other vocal works.
The Night Pieces are here performed by their dedicatees, who premiered them at London's Purcell Room. They were written shortly after the Viola Sonata. The Shepherd Songs make a punning reference to the name of the violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved, a long-time collaborator of the composer and for whom they were written. Here he introduces them in the covering notes.
In short: high quality playing of very original and stimulating music all at the usual bargain price. The recording quality is very creditable too.
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HENZE: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 / 5 Night-Pie...