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CD Review

Hans Werner Henze

  • Piano Concerto #2
  • Telemanniana for Orchestra
Rolf Plagge, piano
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie/Gerhard Markson
CPO 999322-2 DDD 61:42
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Both these works are from 1967 but are worlds apart in this most eclectic composer's output. The Second Piano Concerto starts off sounding almost like discarded sketches from Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, particularly from the Adagio, which serves as the third movement in that one-movement masterwork. But Henze manages to make his material far less dense, his thematic wares more appealing, his rhythms spicier, and his orchestral sonorities more colorful. In the end, this isn't quite jazzed-up, imitation-Schoenberg, but it does invoke Schoenberg with a twist of Bernstein, not excluding the "Broadway Lennie" side of that tag, either. Orff also comes to mind in this music, especially in the more exotic and percussive moments.

Despite its colors and rhythmic vitality, though, this is a dead-serious piece and Henze makes the results quite his own, too, even if these other influences are noticeable. He was going against the grain at the time he wrote the work, refusing to join the more fashionable Darmstadt group of Boulez, Berio and others. Consisting of two movements, the 48-minute Second Concerto is a sort of "pop" serial work whose fairly complex structure defies easy analysis. Its attractive rhythms and dazzling solo writing will appeal to many, even to those normally turned off by anything close to the sound world of Schoenberg. Its Brahmsian length and high decibel level might seem to militate against the work's acceptance, but its wealth of materials and structural and developmental subtleties make it a wholly interesting experience. Rolf Plagge, a prizewinner at the 1990 Tchaikovsky International Competition, turns in a committed and brilliant performance here, and he gets fine support from the Northwest German Philharmonic players and from conductor Markson. cpo's sound is vivid.

Telemanniana, as suggested above, is quite a different work. A parody of Telemann's final Nouveaux Quatuors en Six Suites, it is a delightful work of 13 minutes and serves as quite a contrast (antidote?) to what preceded. Its generally delicate scoring in the large ensemble, pretty much a full-sized orchestral one but minus percussion, is masterfully wrought. The perky themes and rhythms here will have great appeal, making this a worthwhile bonus to an otherwise already interesting recording. The performance is excellent, though some of the tempos near the end of the piece sound a tad slow. Good sound and fine notes.

Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings