Review By James H. North,Fanfare,April 2007
Although he had already written two other concerted pieces, the 1948 Violin Concerto No. 1 was Henze's first work for full symphony orchestra. Its idiom goes back even further, to Berg and Bartók. The yearning spirit of the Berg Violin Concerto and the shiny athleticism of Bartók's Second are here in force. A long opening movement ranges between Largamente and Allegro molto, between heart-felt expression and explosive fireworks-it could be a complete concerto in itself. There follow three more conventional movements, fast, slow, and an all-encompassing finale.
Review By Quinn,American Record Guide,December 2006
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.
Review By Julie Williams,MusicWeb International,October 2006
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.
Review By Art Lange,Fanfare,November 2006
Hans Werner Henze’s First and Third Violin Concertos…lyrical scores share a still-vital modernist perspective.
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Review By Peter Quantrill,The Strad,September 2006
Henze�s musical gifts and socio-political ideals have always directed him towards musical individuation: even the more sprawling of his orchestral works abound in soloistic virtuosity, and his operas and concertos all reveal a concern for the real protagonist rather than highfalutin abstracts. That he has always valued a strong sense of dramatic narrative is clear from the First Violin Concerto. It was written in 1946 � Henze was all of 21 � but it is in no sense an apprentice work. The four movements are shot through with both his appreciation of Berg and Stravinsky and the rigour of his study with Wolfgang Fortner, which barely reins in the concerto�s overall extroversion and the soloist�s many opportunities to rhapsodise. Peter Sheppard Skaerved�s big-boned, strong playing is
Cadenzas litter the Third Violin Concerto (1997) to an even greater degree. The feeling for melody is still strong, but there is a blurry quality to the harmony and a thicker orchestration that is common to Henze�s later works. Sheppard Skaerved does not enjoy so advantageous a balance with the orchestra, and in the long slow movement I sense a lack of momentum. The programme may be partly to blame: the conceit is that Henze has brought to life the violin concerto composed by Adrian Leverk�hn, the syphilitic genius of Thomas Mann�s Doktor Faustus. Those who have read the novel will readily identify the characters who inspire each of the three movements � the sultry �ber-whore Esmeralda, the doomed child Nepo and Leverk�hn�s dangerously brilliant pet violinist Rudi � and may find it too hard to detach one medium from the other.
The five understated miniatures that make up the Night Pieces (1990) are much less effusive and more successful examples of Henze�s late style; Sheppard Skaerved is ably partnered by Aaron Shorr in finding the nuance of each.
Review By Dominy Clements,MusicWeb International,July 2006
It must have been 1986 when, believe it or not, I had lunch with Hans Werner Henze. A student at the RAM, I was member of the last of a sequence of scruffy bunches of composition students to take masterclasses with the great man at a mews flat just over the road from Harrod�s. The great man regularly took breaks to stand and partake of the fresh air wafting in from an open pair of French windows. It turned out that he and some friends had enjoyed some incredible quantity of wine the evening before, and so it wasn�t long before � much to my delight � we were joining the great man in a �hair of the dog� gin and tonic before, as the last group of the day, being invited to stay for lunch. With our collectively lamentable ignorance I�m afraid this unforgettable day is forever stamped
Fortunately for me the great man has become even greater, and as the new century progresses, it is increasingly easier to measure Henze�s stature as a composer for our times. Having experienced the nightmare of war as a youth he matured swiftly, and the first Violin Concerto sounds as fresh and convincing now as it must have sounded modern and avant-garde in its day. Henze admits to having had great difficulties with the work, but every aspect of it is impressively satisfying as a whole: the orchestration is varied and colourful, the solo violin part idiomatic and laden with emotionally charged meaning. This is no superficially virtuoso concerto, but a deeply personal statement on the ugliness of war and the triumph of sensitivity and the human spirit conveyed by some beautiful lines in the solo violin.
Peter Sheppard Sk�rved has a long association with Henze�s work, and his playing is completely at home in all of the pieces on this disc. His technical mastery and deep understanding of the composer�s world transmit a sense of confidence - the Dutch word �vanzelfsprekend� sums this up - which should remove many difficulties for the listener. To be sure, this music will not be everybody�s cup of tea, but educating the ear to accept the language of another can be a joyous experience, and recordings such as this provide an ideal opportunity for widening one�s horizons.
The third Violin Concerto, written fifty years after the first, sits easily with its youthful partner on this disc. Henze�s musical language has always maintained an uncompromising individuality, and this is apparent in both works. The third concerto does however bristle with allusions to composers on whose shoulders Henze is standing � continuing an ancient and traditional musical form in a completely modern context. Alban Berg is one of the most recognisable references. I also sense a fleeting relationship with Tippett or Britten at some moments, and momentary glimpses, like the flash of a camera, reveal Beethoven, Wagner, Corelli and even Bach as Henze�s playmates in corners of this fascinating work.
The concerto has Thomas Mann�s epic Dr. Faustus as its starting point, and each movement refers to in some way to the imaginary violin concerto of Adrian Leverk�hn which appears, described in detail in the novel. Henze makes no attempt to follow the analysis of the piece as it appears in the book, but each movement has a title which clearly alludes to characters in the story. Henze�s engagement with German literature is an ongoing theme in his work, and the result here is a magnificently romantic monument to the passions and tragedies which occupied those true giants of the arts � Goethe, Mann, Beethoven, Mahler. The symphonic orchestra is enriched with tuned percussion, piano, celesta, harp � and Henze is fully awake to the associations which each instrument conjures.
The �filler� is a set of �Five Night Pieces,� written especially for Peter Sheppard Sk�rved and Aaron Shorr. Kept awake by rowdy locals at a Caribbean holiday location, Henze ended up working on these �Notturni� as a way to use those hours of insomnia productively. These are spare or concise, atmospheric or persuasively penetrating creations, with an almost Webernesque sense of serialism in places. Henze slyly refers to the violinist�s name in two movements titled Hirtenlieder or Shepherd�s song, but these pieces are by no means bagatelle miniatures.
Naxos once again ticks all of the boxes with this release. Performances and recordings are top notch, and Naxos has something of a coup with both dedicatees of the F�nf Nachtst�cke on board. The Saarbr�cken Radio Symphony Orchestra under Christopher Lyndon-Gee is committed and expert, and I can think of no complaints with any aspect of this production. Violin concertos are an attractive proposition, and while listeners shouldn�t expect the easy ride of a Samuel Barber or transparent filigree of a Dutilleux, they can count on having some seriously emotional meat on the bones of this traditional form. G&Ts all round!