Markus Stenz conducts works by Henze

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COMPOSERS: Henze
LABELS: Oehms Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Henze
WORKS: Symphony No. 7; Sieben Boleros; Ouverture zu einem Theater; l’Heure bleue
PERFORMER: Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne/
Markus Stenz
CATALOGUE NO: OC 446

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Hans Werner Henze’s Seventh Symphony, written in 1983-84 for the Berlin Philharmonic, is a big, serious contribution to the great symphonic tradition. Scored for a vast orchestra including such rarities as heckelphone and contrabass clarinet, it’s in four movements: a dance which gradually accumulates momentum, a calm slow movement with some forceful climaxes, a relentless scherzo inspired by the incarceration of the poet Hölderlin, and a reflective finale suggested by a Hölderlin poem.

Markus Stenz and the Cologne orchestra present a precise and vivid reading of the score, recorded with a sense of breadth and depth. It’s trumped, though, by Simon Rattle’s live recording with the CBSO (now on Warner Classics), in which slightly broader tempos and careful balancing of sound-masses allow individual players and sections to project their lines with greater expressivity.

However, this disc includes a considerable bonus in the shape of three works from Henze’s last years: Seven Boleros, which conjures up a Spanish atmosphere less with dance rhythms than with a dazzling quality of light; l’Heure bleue, a glowing depiction of twilight by the Mediterranean; and Overture to a theatre, written shortly before Henze’s death in 2012, an eventful five-minute conspectus of this master-composer’s orchestral expertise.

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Anthony Burton