Henze: Symphony No. 9

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COMPOSERS: Henze
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Berlin Radio Chorus, Berlin PO/Ingo Metzmacher
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56513 2
Remembering where Beethoven, Bruckner and others stopped, some symphonists are fearful of the fateful No. 9. Others, like Hans Werner Henze, embrace it. Premiered in Berlin in September 1997, his Ninth is a searing work remembering the victims of fascism, and those who fought against it. This Ninth is also, uncompromisingly, a choral symphony in seven movements, using voices to present the continuous first-person of the text.

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Seven, as it happens, reflects Das siebte Kreuz, Anna Segher’s novel to which Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s seven poems and Henze’s music owe their inspiration. Like its subject matter, the score is violent, dark and filled with anxiety, reflecting the Henze we’ve come to know through works like the instrumental Requiem. It’s not the composer of the recent opera Venus and Adonis who steps from the shadows, but an artist whose memories, tangible in music, are rooted in his own childhood in Nazi Germany.

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Though the tale is grim, a survivor escapes down the Rhine. And, under Metzmacher’s direction, the Berlin Radio Chorus and Berlin Philharmonic, long-time Henze supporters, snatch hope from the jaws of despair. There’s credit, too, for the producer, who has captured the tension of a live performance – EMI has recorded the Berlin premiere – with such fidelity. Nicholas Williams