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Hans Werner Henze - Memoirs of an Outsider

Hans Werner Henze Requiem
- Nine Sacred Concertos (1990/1992)
plus Memoirs of an Outsider (An in-depth interview)

Ueli Wiget – Piano
Hakan Hardenberg – Trumpet
The Ensemble Modern, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher

Musical excerpts in the documentary given by:
The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Markus Stenz
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle
Ian Bostridge – Tenor
Michaela Kaune – Mezzo Soprano
Julius Drake – Piano
Excerpts from the autobiography read by Oliver Tobias

Arthaus DVD 100 360 [71 mins (Requiem) + 89 mins (Portrait)]

I tend to avoid concert DVDs, having a preference for opera and, especially, dance DVDs - where the visual aspect is of greater and more continual interest. I also confess to difficulty with some of Henze's music. This DVD is highly persuasive.

The Hessischer Rundfunk TV documentary has the 75-yr old composer's musings about his life as a composer set against view of his glorious garden at his home in Italy. Henze is interviewed by Oliver Knussen and we see him briefly at his work table, but mostly outside. Few direct statements about the music and his way of composing, but a great deal of illuminating background, and an endearing portrait emerges. Inevitably, as is the common way, too many short snippets from his works, but they do build a cumulative impression of his changing style, which never strays far from melody, though that may not be apparent to everyone.

It makes, however, an excellent introduction to the 71 mins Requiem, a major work of which the individual Sacred Concerto movements can be performed "separately or in any desired combination". I recommend starting with the last, a "radiant and hymn-like Sanctus", before tackling the more satirical and savage music in some of the others.

The whole is dedicated to the memory of Henze's friend and champion Michael Vyner, who commissioned many of his pieces for the London Sinfonietta before his untimely death. For Henze, Vyner's name "does duty for all - - who have died before their time" and its strong drama and brilliant instrumentation makes a vivid evocation of "the horrors and passions, beauty and dynamics" of our time. The playing in live concert (where was it?) is clearly magnificent and so is the filming, which has a field day ranging amongst the numerous exotic instruments in the large percussion department; but this really does help listening and the DVD as a whole may well make Hanze converts.

It gradually worked its spell and has persuaded me to return to review the rather dauntingly austere DVD presentation of Henze's opera DER PRINZ VON HOMBURG (Wolfgang Sawallisch & Nikolaus Lehnhoff 1994) - Arthaus 100 164.

© Peter Grahame Woolf