Lebrecht Weekly – Hans Werner Henze: Kammermusik 1958, Neue Volkslieder (Tudor)

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Modern composers, when they die, go into limbo for about a decade before their reputation settles. It has been five years since Henze left us and I miss bumping into his music, on the radio, at festivals, anywhere. It has all gone rather quiet.

Which may account for my excessive pleasure at encountering these otherworldly pieces, rich in references to a forgotten age and its leisurely pace. The Kammermusik, for tenor, guitar and eight instruments, is dedicated to Benjamin Britten in thanks for introducing Henze to the guitarist Julian Bream. But although Henze quotes a Britten phrase and dabbles wistfully with a twelve-note row, the music is lush, exuberant, Mediterranean and very sensual – as different from Britten as could possibly be. Perfect August music, in fact. Jürgen Ruck is the guitarist, Andrew Staples the captivating tenor, with vivid playing from the Scharoun Enseble Berlin.

The Neue Volkslieder began as a workshop project in a depressed steel town and was developed by Henze into a lament for lost landscapes, a meditation on might-have-beens, like a long-lost family album. Hints of Kurt Weill and early Hindemith. Try it: I was transfixed.

—Norman Lebrecht

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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