Henze Voices – Requiem

Symphony No.25 in G minor K183
Hans Werner Henze

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)
Paul Crossley (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 4 April, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

And so to the end of the South Bank’s ’Henze at 75’ retrospective, with one of the most original and absorbing of his recent works. As one might expect from a composer of passionately-held humanist convictions, Requiem is not a setting of the text itself. What transpires is a sequence of nine Spiritual Concertos, in the manner of Schütz or, perhaps, Biber, charting the course of the liturgy as to movement headings and even content, but with little attempt at more concrete expression: “doors through which one can pass,” as the composer describes them, so as to arrive at an interpretation relevant to each listener.

The presence throughout of solo piano and – in movements five, eight and nine – concertante trumpet, is a vivid reminder not only of the work’s baroque provenance, but also the realisations Henze had made of Carissimi’s Jeptha in 1976 and of Monteverdi’s Ulisse five years later. The large chamber orchestra – reduced strings enabling brass to predominate where necessary and with typically resourceful use of percussion – furthers this connection, though the complexity of much of the writing admits no pastiche.

Cyclically, Requiem does present problems of assimilation. The nine movements, while performable in various sub-groupings, follow closely the components (though not the order) of the Requiem text, and need to be heard as an entity for the musical impact to register in full. Yet the momentum created is sustained unevenly across the cycle. After the uneasy elegy of the opening ’Introitus’ (a posthumous tribute to Michael Vyner from 1990 and the point from which the work evolved) and stridency of ’Dies Irae’, both the ’Ave verum’ and ’Lux aeterna’ seem uncertain as to how to reprise the emotional trajectory thus far, without stalling its primarily linear intensification. Perhaps the piano needs to project more forcefully its apparent role of co-ordinator, elaborating and commenting on ideas heard but fragmentarily in the ensemble.

Certainly the emergence of the trumpet in ’Rex tremendae’ has a galvanising impact at both a musical and experiential level, its militaristic irony giving way to the ambivalent supplication of the ’Dies Irae’, before the almost tangible theatrics of ’Tuba mirum’. Mahler yields to Berg and even Weill in the ominous yet delicately realised satire of ’Lacrimosa’, before ’Sanctus’ brings the work to a conclusion, if not of transcendence, at least of acceptance – the trumpet joined antiphonally by two others, and decorated by handbells, in a chorale of fatalistic import.

While Paul Crossley coped ably with the solo piano role, Håkan Hardenberger displayed magnificent authority in his contribution, unsparing both in virtuosity and projection. Christoph von Dohnányi directed with unobtrusive authority, ensuring the often-intricate textures came across cleanly. At 65 minutes, the work is concert-length in conception if not necessarily in length. Mozart’s ’little’ G minor in the first half, soundly if unexceptionally played and with an unattractively frigid Andante, was little more than a filler: Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, originally scheduled, would have set the scene more pertinently. Yet Requiem should prove a work of lasting significance, and needed a revival such as this – attentively and enthusiastically received.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content