I tend to avoid concert DVDs, having a preference for opera and, especially, dance DVDs – where the visual aspect is of greater and more continual interest. I also confess to difficulty with some of Henze's music. This DVD is highly persuasive.
The Hessischer Rundfunk TV documentary has the 75-year old composer's musings about his life as a composer set against views of his glorious garden in Italy. He is interviewed by Oliver Knussen and we see him briefly at his work table, but mostly outside. Few direct statements about the music and his way of composing, but a great deal of illuminating background, and an endearing portrait emerges. Inevitably, as is the common way, too many short snippets from his works, but they build a cumulative picture of his changing idiom, with melody never far away.
It makes, however, an excellent introduction to the 71-minute Requiem, a major work of which the individual Sacred Concerto movements can be performed "separately or in any desired combination". I recommend starting with the last, a "radiant and hymn-like Sanctus", before tackling the more satirical and savage music in some of the others.
The whole is dedicated to the memory of Henze's friend and champion Michael Vyner, who commissioned many of his pieces for the London Sinfonietta before his untimely death. For Henze, Vyner's name "does duty for all – who have died before their time" and its strong drama and brilliant instrumentation makes a vivid evocation of "the horrors and passions, beauty and dynamics" of our time. The playing in live concert (where was it?) is clearly magnificent, as is the sound recording, and so is the camera work, which has a field day ranging amongst the numerous exotic instruments in the large percussion department. This really does help listening and the DVD as a whole may well make Henze converts.
Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf