Henze Violin Concertos Nos 1-3
The concerto has been central to Henze’s output throughout his career, even if many works do not bear the title ‘concerto’ or, as with the Requiem, exist in fusion with other genres. This formal freedom is evident in the three violin concertos. The vibrant First (1948), begun while he was still studying with Fortner, shows his initial, halting attempts at 12-note composition, an ambitious endeavour embarked on with no formal guidance (though the stylistic bedrock is still Hindemith). While a little learning may be a dangerous thing, here it goes a long way indeed. The Concerto teems with magical sounds pointing the way to the operas of the 1950s and ’60s.
Concerto and theatre collide in the Second (1971), written at the height of Henze’s early period of political engagement. Scored for solo violin (at one point amplified, and whose player is instructed to wear a flowing black tailcoat and plumed tricorn hat), solo baritone, tape and an ensemble of 33 instruments, this expressionist score is dominated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poem Homage to Gödel with its central image of the ‘liar’ Münchhausen extricating himself from a quagmire by pulling at his own pigtail. From it Henze conjures a fascinating sonic tapestry, a most original rethink of the whole notion of the role of the individual that is the Concerto’s core concern.
There is a literary connection in No 3 (1997, given here in its 2002 revision), consisting of three character portraits drawn from Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus: Esmeralda, the child ‘Echo’ and Rudi Schwerdtfeger. The Concerto has common traits with Henze’s enchanting Shakespearian Eighth Symphony and is similarly rich in ideas and imagery. The performances by Torsten Janicke are strongly characterised and virtuosic, and Christian Ehwald draws sympathetic accompaniments from the well drilled Magdeburg Philharmonic, recorded somewhat distantly but clearly.