Henze: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 3; Fünf Nachtstücke

COMPOSERS: Henze
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Henze
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 3; Fünf Nachtstücke
PERFORMER: Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin), Aaron Shorr (piano); Saarbrücken Radio SO/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557738
The young Hans Werner Henze dreamed of writing music of a ‘sumptuous and wild euphony’. His First Violin Concerto of 1947/48 achieves this ambition only fitfully, with its incompletely digested mixture of 12-note principles, the Berg and Bartók concertos, and jazz riffs. But Concerto No. 3 of 1996, suggested by three characters in Thomas Mann’s novel Doktor Faustus, more closely matches the description with its fund of lyrical melody, rich scoring, and occasional violent orchestral outbursts.

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On this new Naxos disc, marking Henze’s 80th birthday on 1 July, Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Christopher Lyndon-Gee take a disconcertingly broad view of both concertos. In particular, the Third, officially 22 minutes long, comes in at over 33, with tempos way under the printed metronome marks in all three movements, and in the process loses much of its lyricism and charm. This is all the more surprising as Sheppard Skaerved is a long-time collaborator of Henze, the dedicatee of the poetic Five Nocturnes of 1990 for violin and piano which complete the disc. But, for all the soloist’s obvious ardour, the excellent playing of the fine Saarbrücken orchestra and the vivid recording, the concerto performances are simply too sluggish to be recommendable.

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Reviewing MDG’s full-price two-disc set of all three concertos in the January issue, I found it generally acceptable, with the soloist Torsten Janicke confident and efficient but cool. Revisiting it now, I’ll gladly settle for cool and efficient at the right speeds. Anthony Burton