Hans Werner Henze: Voices – 29th March

Hans Werner Henze
Symphony No.5
Fraternite (UK premiere)
Piano Concerto No.3
Symphony No.5

Yefim Bronfman (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi

Reviewed by: Mike Langhorne

Reviewed: 29 March, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

This concert was part of the South Bank Centre’s Voices series of concerts – a tribute to Henze on his impending 75th birthday. The Fifth Symphony is nearing its fortieth birthday; Fraternite is from 1999. The composer was in attendance.

Symphony No.5 was written for Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic and first performed in May 1963. It is a crystalline work of contrasts written for large orchestra. The first movement sets strings and woodwind against violent brass eruptions. The calmer slow movement is followed by a virtuoso finale, which the Philharmonia relished (especially the brass), Dohnanyi paying great attention to balance and articulation, which opened-up the score scrupulously.

For the ten-minute Fraternite, also composed for the New York Philharmonic and, this time, Kurt Masur, Henze scores for an even larger orchestra including six each of horns and trombones and a battery of percussion. Sub-divided strings and harp contribute a pulsing opening; as textures become more complex a number of loud climaxes are reached before cantabile strings offer a conclusion. Dohnanyi balanced Fraternite meticulously, achieving a lucid, if not very involving, reading.

Clear articulation and an ear for inner-voices can be helpful in complex music, but one wanted rather more in Beethoven. If the Third Piano Concerto, with Bronfman on particularly nimble-fingered form, and Fifth Symphony were included to pull in the punters, then the plan was successful. One couldn’t fault Dohnanyi for the clarity with which he articulated Beethoven’s notation. But where was the Beethovenian power, the sheer visceral excitement? Not on duty this night, I’m afraid, both scores realised with all the skill of a fishmonger displaying his perfectly formed but stone-dead wares on a marble slab.

Colin Anderson also writes on the pieces by Henze

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