Hans Werner Henze
Fraternite (UK premiere) Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.3
Yefim Bronfman (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi
Hans Werner Henze: Voices - 29th March (Postscript)
Thursday, March 29, 2001 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Hans Werner Henzes Fifth Symphony is particularly intriguing in its concentration of form, concise argument and individual orchestration. Perhaps writing it for the New York Philharmonic and Stravinsky-devotee Leonard Bernstein reminded Henze that Stravinskys Symphony in three movements was composed for that Orchestra. Certainly Henzes declared admiration for Stravinsky is evident in No.5s rhythmic and instrumental clarity, and in the motoric propulsion that informs the outer sections. Like Stravinskys masterwork, Henze 5 is in three movements and lasts about 20 minutes.
Then theres Henzes scoring. The strings are as normal the woodwind though is alto flute, piccolo and two each of flutes, oboes and cor anglais (there are no clarinets or bassoons). Horns, trumpets and trombones are (unusually) four per instrument; no tuba required. Henze exchanges a twentieth-century inventory of percussion-colour for a ripieno of two sets of timpani, two pianos and two harps. This individual display of specific sound and instrument-numbers plays its part in making Henzes symphony so particular. The slow movement, with solos for alto flute, viola and cor anglais is a sensuous oasis amidst The Rite of Spring-like attack before and aft; throughout, Henzes imaginative instrumentation creates a timbral resonance that uncannily suggests the spirit of Rome, which Henze alludes inspired his creation.
Dohnanyis characteristic use of antiphonal violins clarified these sections dialogue (especially their interplay near the start of the finale); not that there is a dominance of such exchange its not an arrangement pre-determined by Bernstein, nor what the composer has on his DG recording. An old-fashioned seating arrangement maybe, but one that nevertheless still proved invaluable for music written at a distance from such things. Similarly, Dohnanyis doubling of the woodwind to four-to-a-part in Beethoven 5 (but not in the concerto) suggested, in the rehearsal I attended, a dynamic force rather more fulsome than Henzes modern use of orchestral panoply!
If the Fifth displays a debt to Stravinsky, then Fraternite finds Henze in Mahler-mode, something specifically intimated by his casting of its song-invention for strings and harp (i.e. Mahler 5s Adagietto). Henze makes dramatic use of introducing tension and foreboding to his millennial-inspired piece: a peering into the new century with some trepidation. In its open-ended form, Fraternite suggests itself as a beautiful, if harshly contrasted, counterpart to the last movement of Henzes great Seventh Symphony. To this Mahlerian basis, Henze employs a rich harmonic language worthy of Berg and a complex, but always lucid, use of a (conventional) large orchestra. Fraternites troubled lyricism is distinctive, universal and contemporary. Read Mike Langhornes review of this concert