Hessenberg

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COMPOSERS: Hessenberg
LABELS: Cassandra
WORKS: Concerto No. 1 for Orchestra; Symphony No. 2 in A
PERFORMER: Slovak RSO/Leland Sun
CATALOGUE NO: CR 201 (distr. www.cassandrarecords.com)
Kurt Hessenberg was beginning to make a name before the Second World War, but found himself neglected afterwards, not only because he’d stuck with a musical style that had gone out of fashion, but also because he’d stayed in Germany during the war, though he wasn’t politically involved. There’s a parallel with Furtwängler, but unlike him, Hessenberg didn’t have the profile and genius to bounce back, although he lived until 1994 and continued to compose and teach. If you heard the bustling opening of the Concerto for Orchestra without knowing the composer, your first thought would be Hindemith, in the way the harmonies click into place, the busy contrapuntal activity and even the shape of the tunes. And there’s more than a passing relationship to Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler Symphony in the design and compactness of the work. Hindemith’s shadow doesn’t lie quite as long over Hessenberg’s Symphony, but there still isn’t a fully formed individual voice, and the work tends to sprawl. Parts are gripping, and then there’s suddenly a naive turn of events which loses the attention. A curious corner of history. Martin Cotton

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