Henze: Orpheus behind the wire; Aristaeus

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COMPOSERS: Henze
LABELS: Wergo
ALBUM TITLE: Henze
WORKS: Orpheus behind the wire; Aristaeus
PERFORMER: Martin Wuttke (speaker); Berlin Radio Choir; RSO Berlin/Marek Janowski
CATALOGUE NO: WER 66802
Henze’s 1979 dance drama Orpheus, on a scenario by Edward Bond, has spawned a number of concert pieces occupying the same generally restrained, sombre, often very beautiful sound-world – including these two, recorded live in Berlin in 2004. The unaccompanied choral suite Orpheus Behind the Wire

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(1981-83), on poems by Bond, is well sung, but despite the presence of a British conductor the English is consistently mispronounced (why not use Henze’s own German translation?), and the first two numbers are well-nigh wrecked by a persistent cougher in the audience. So this is no more than a stopgap in the, let’s hope temporary, absence from the catalogue of Chandos’s superior studio recording by the Danish Radio Chamber Choir.

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Aristaeus (1997/2003), premiered in this concert, tells the Orpheus story from the point of view of the shepherd who’s pursuing Eurydice when she’s killed by a snake – and who in this version, watching jealously as Orpheus reclaims her from Hades, precipitates her second death. Spoken monologues to Henze’s own text alternate with short orchestral passages, some taken from the ballet score, others newly written but drawing on both the 1979 Barcarola and Orpheus Behind the Wire. The large quantities of spoken German, with Martin Wuttke sounding rather low-key to Anglo-Saxon ears, may put off some listeners. But with fine-drawn orchestral playing and clear sound, the work emerges as characteristic Henze, and unexpectedly compelling. Anthony Burton