Henze 10

Don Juan, Op.20
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Symphony No.10 [UK premiere]

Richard Goode (piano)

Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 18 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

A relative lack of new commissions in main-evening Proms this year has thrown greater emphasis on recent works brought to the Albert Hall by visiting artists. The UK premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s Tenth Symphony promised to be a highlight of the season – furthering a recent tradition, moreover, wherein UK premieres of the composer’s last four symphonies have each taken place at the Proms.

Completed in stages between 1997 and 2000, and premiered two years ago at the Lucerne Festival by Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the UK premiere of Henze’s Tenth was directed by Ingo Metzmacher – whose advocacy of the composer has been second to none among conductors of his generation, and whose performance of the Ninth Symphony, judged as an event, was a Proms highlight four years ago.

Although No.10 reverts to the purely orchestral, four-movement form last employed in the Seventh Symphony, its expressive trajectory is a very different one. The fast-slow-fast-slow ground-plan has been retained, but instead of the intensifying pairs of movements to be found in the earlier work, the feeling is of a succession of contrasts which achieves formal cohesion by dint of its innate diversity. Thus the opening movement, ‘A Storm’, pursues a path of intensification through changes in timbre and texture rather than those of theme or motif: leaving the sense of a symphonic conception being envisaged rather than attempted (interesting, too, that several of the audience who contributed to the applause at this point left after subsequent movements, as if the prolonged non-fulfilment were too much for them).

In fact, Henze stratifies his sizeable orchestral forces at this point. Strings only are employed in the second movement, ‘A Hymn’, which has the feel of a slow intermezzo that rises as it intensifies in a two-part melodic curve – note-values halving to imply increased momentum in music whose chromatic density recalls similarly-scored adagios in symphonies by Honegger and Hartmann. Pitched percussion and brass (seconded by double basses) are the constituents of ‘A Dance’ – less outwardly malevolent than the respective movement of the Seventh Symphony, but engaging in its rhythmic vitality and in demonstrating that the Afro-Cuban soundworld Henze once drew on anecdotally has found inherently musical usage in his later music.

From here it seems a logical step to reintroduce the full orchestra: the concluding ‘A Dream’ being another of the composer’s explorations of how a melodic line – albeit one with counter-ideas issued in some profusion – can sustain a symphonic culmination which clinches, but in no tangible sense fulfils, the overall design. It might have done so more readily had Metzmacher adopted a more long-breathed tempo in music whose unfolding intensity surely warrants such an approach. Otherwise, this was a convincing, skilfully-executed account of a substantial work which – drawing on the orchestra with a flair to which Henze has so often aspired but only rarely achieved – combines the existential doubt and sometimes heavy-handed whimsy of his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies respectively into a design whose musical staying-power may well become as evident as its symphonic inner logic.

In a welcome opportunity to hear the Hamburg Philharmonic, of which – both on the concert platform and in the opera pit – Metzmacher has been General Music Director since 1997, the concert opened with a Don Juan to remind one that, whatever provocations his music was soon to assume, Strauss’s musical antecedents lie in Mendelssohn and Schumann rather than Liszt and Wagner. While the opening was a touch foursquare rhythmically, contrasts of sensuousness and excitement were thereafter worked into a continuity that rightly stressed formal ingenuity rather than programmatic contrivance.

In terms purely of music-making, however, the highlight was an account of Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto which brought out the originality of the musical ideas and the intensity of their realisation by stressing the work’s chamber-like intimacy – and hence its immediacy. Richard Goode delivered a memorable account of the late B flat Concerto at the Proms some years ago, and his liquid tone and precision of phrasing were equally in evidence here. The underlying unease of the opening Allegro can seldom have been so deftly brought off; nor can the tonal frisson conveyed by the return of the main theme near the close of the ‘Romanza’.

Goode opted, surprisingly perhaps, for the rhetorical Beethoven cadenza in the first movement, and supplied his own in the finale – emphasising the switch to D major as a fait accompli rather than the unlikely outcome of an ongoing process. It did little to undermine the poise of the performance as a whole, one in which Metzmacher’s skills as a concerto accompanist were once again made manifest. Hopefully the regularity of his appearances in London will not decrease when he assumes directorship of Netherlands Opera from the 2005/6 season.

  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 2 September at 2.30 p.m.
  • BBC Proms 2004

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