INKPOT#83/I CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: Requiem Issue – CORIGLIANO Symphony No.1. Of Rage and Remembrance. Various/Slatkin (RCA)
CORIGLIANO Symphony No.1. Of Rage and Remembrance. Various/Slatkin (RCA)
Ueli Wiget pianoHkan Hardenberger TrumpetEnsemble Modern conducted by Ingo Metzmacher
SONY Classical SK58972 [63:02] full-price
by Chua Guan Ee
To begin with, I shall make it clear that this is no ordinary requiem: firstly, there is no text although the music does follow an imagined sequence; and secondly, there is no chorus of singers to declaim that text, leaving listeners to rely solely on a programmatic concept to aid comprehension. The composer’s given subtitle to his Requiem is clear: “Nine Sacred Concertos for Piano Solo, Trumpet Concertante and Chamber Orchestra”. No conventional “mass for the dead” indeed.
Hans Werner Henze (b.1926) is perhaps Germany’s greatest living composer, whose musical language not unlike Stravinsky before him has traversed the entire gamut of available 20th-century styles: a musical chameleon of sorts, able to adopt at will any textbook-idiom imaginable though always retaining a trademark sensuousness in his lyricism and tone-colours.
Like his Darmstadt friend, the Italian Luigi Nono, Henze is a political activist: many of his works thus displaying his leftist concerns. The germ of the Requiem began life almost fifty years ago as a miniature concerto for piano and small orchestra which was premired at Pierre Boulez’s now defunct Domaine Musicale concerts.
Henze, after years of hesitation, finally revisited this early work in 1990, and transmuted it to suit a commission from the London Sinfonietta to be played at a memorial concert for the composer’s friend, Michael Vyner. Vyner had been founder and artistic director of the London Sinfonietta for many years; and it was he who spearheaded the now glorified ever-new music movement in the English capital.
According to the composer, this Requiem is the result of a deeply-felt loss, and tells of
“the fears and afflictions of people of our own time, of illness and death, of love and loneliness, and especially […] my grief at a loss which stands here for the loss of so many others. … The state of mind summed up by this music reflects this reality and our own present age. It seems to me deeply affected by this age, by its terrors and passions, its beauties and its dynamism”.
Indeed, Hans Werner Henze the avowed atheist, devout humanist and undogmatic socialist has crafted a subtle and poignant poetry of sounds that contains perhaps all of humanity’s “experiences of death, departure and grief”; and which has – as its point of departure – the imagery of the Catholic Mass for the Dead.
Introitus: Requiem: The alluring gentleness of the opening is only punctured intermittently by excitable brass-figurations; otherwise the dominant tranquility is carefully sustained by violin-harmonics and “starry” tinklings of the celesta and the solo-piano creating a glass-like tonal structure.
Dies irae: Henze fashioned his ideas of the “Day of Wrath” on his own experiences of war such as the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, and the more recent Gulf War, both of which he heavily opposed. The solo piano takes on a more virtousic mantle, as it urges the rest of the orchestra to shatteringly powerful climaxes. Even the famous Gregorian “Dies Irae” sequence makes a cameo appearance; this time in instrumental garb and articulated brutally. The listener is left to pick-up the pieces when, at the end, the orchestra climbs to a frenetic fortissimo which all but suddenly shatters into silence.
Ave verum: A lyrical lamentoso that sings of the suffering victims of war. The chromatic inner-voices of Mozart’s Requiem are here turned into the principal melodies, and a ritualistic feel is attained by the simultaneous striking of six chromatically-tuned handbells, sixteen times.
Lux aeterna: Musical ideas depicting the composer’s personal experiences of “light” are brought to life; here given titles such as “Summer light in childhood”, “Moonlight”, and “Cicadas”.
Rex tremendae: A march-like movement which depicts like the Dies irae earlier on images of terror and catastrophe. The concertante trumpet-solo pokes obscene fun at military marchpasts, and Hitler’s favourite Badenweiler march is briefly quoted at the climax. For the composer, the Rex tremendae calls to mind General Norman Schwarzkopf’s mindless orders for his tanks to drive over Iraqi soldiers in their desert trenches and buried alive, without warning and without a chance to surrender.
Agnus Dei: A slow, tender movement which serves as an elegy to children, who are often the innocent victims of wartime violence. Scored delicately for solo-piano and strings, this music calls to mind the slow movements of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto.
Tuba mirum: Brittle chords for the solo-piano are invariably interrupted by loud, brassy interjections including an audacious, tongue-in-cheek military march! All the ruckus ends suddenly in stillness, “suggesting the idea of absolute emptiness, with silence a tense expression of nothingness”.
Lacrimosa: This funereal movement again features the solo-trumpeter in the role of a sinner seeking supplication; as the original Latin text portrays. Indeed, the soloist is called upon in the score to render such expressions as “like a scream” and “cry of lamentation”.
Sanctus: This is music of utmost beauty. Already, the soothing chords in the opening bars project Henze’s idea of heaven. This movement calls most readily to mind the sacred concertos which flourished in the years around 1600. The composer includes a polychoral stance for two additional trumpets whose cantilenas intertwine with that of the soloist, amidst the orchestra’s tonal palette. This, surely, is Henze’s song to humankind and brotherly love of all men; not unlike Beethoven’s similar preoccupation in the finale of his “Choral Symphony”.
The young German conductor, Ingo Metzmacher, leads his forces in an aptly atmospheric and passionate reading of Henze’s complex and beautiful score. Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, already well-known for their expert handling of modern material – from Stravinsky to Cage to jazz and contemporary “classical rock” is evidently capable of the most diverse of sonorities, from the grandly orchestral to the most intimate chamber-like murmurs.
The Ravelian opening of the Introitus is done with utmost delicacy, allowing Ueli Wiget’s featherlight tinklings ample space to breathe. The menacing brutality of the Dies irae is brought alive with sharp articulation from the brass, with surging trumpets blasting all of the preceding movement’s tranquility to oblivion. One would dare admire their virtuosity: listen to the horns’ and trumpets’ blistering flutter-tonguing in the final bars!
The important factor in Henze’s musical idiom is surely his delicate textures: he explores, no doubt by purely conventional means, every possible form of transparency in timbre even in grandiose tutti-statements which summons to mind a similarity in Debussy and perhaps also in Ravel. The lofty Ave verum and even loftier Lux aeterna are two cases in point: in the latter, listen to the seductive pleasures of a poignant oboe amidst first – silken strings, then, a flurry of shimmers from strings and wind. Applause, then, to Metzmacher’s effective realisation of the score’s “inner-secrets’: even better is the subsequent “Cicadas” section where a virtual scene of those insects are aptly created with Henze’s ingenious use of tone-colour.
Hkan Hardenberger’s solo contribution, though not substantial, is praiseworthy in its conceptual realisation: his tone is bright and piercing, but not at all lacking in fullness; and he certainly adds enough chutzpah in the Rex tremendae. His spontaneous and idiomatic playing thoroughly inspires his colleagues in the witty “dialogues” littered in various places in Henze’s musical mockery of military actions. More virtuoso brass-playing in the loud Tuba mirum, where the musicians’ excellent sense of rhythm and precision add to the fun not least the comic imitation of a marching band in an almost Stravinskian parody of normalcy. Again, Hardenberger’s superlative playing comes to the fore in his role as a “sinner seeking supplication” in the tense Lacrimosa: his solo-part infused with such conviction one would be hard-pressed to guess if he, indeed, felt some kinship with his imagined role. And, finally, in the Sanctus Hardenberger exhibits a wide range of emotion in his treble melodies, and urges his fellow trumpeters to give of their best in the enchanting polychoral sections.
Hans Werner Henze’s position in twentieth-century music is uncontested; and this instrumental Requiem is without a doubt the work of a highly creative and individual voice which deserves to be heard by everyone. And the bonus of a deeply committed band of interpreters on this disc makes it an important collection to any serious lover of great music.
553: 4.8.1999 Chua Guan Ee