One of the reasons I so admire Hans Werner Henze is that he is one of the least dogmatic of postwar composers. As fiercely modern as any of his contemporaries (i.e., Boulez, Nono), Henze has never succumbed to rote formulas, nor been afraid to embrace lush tonalities and textures. The three orchestral works on this disc provide ample evidence of his chameleon-like ability to synthesize seemingly disparate movements (neo-classicism, twelve-tone technique, serialism) into beguiling musical tapestries uniquely his own. First up is Henze’s “Adagio, Fuge and Mänadentanz,” a musical suite based on his opera “Die Bassariden,” in which Henze wields massed symphonic forces to stunning effect. Extended string passages full of dark expressionistic corners are contrasted with moments of violent uplift that tread a fine line between dissonance and tonality. Breathtaking stuff. “Nachtstücke und Arien” (Nocturnes and Arias) is another highly atmospheric work, a four-movement suite comprised of instrumental and vocal pieces. The nocturnes are lush tone poems imbued with a nervous and at times aggressive lyricism. The arias, gloriously interpreted by soprano Claudia Barainsky, are unashamedly romantic in their evocation of longing and loss. Henze indulges his taste for grand theatrical effects in his “Sinfonia No. 8” (fittingly, as it’s inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Furiously paced, densely textured and darkly eloquent, the piece can be seen as an encapsulation of Henze’s all-inclusive aesthetic. The music projects an almost overpowering scope that doesn’t, however, inhibit its staggering range of emotional expression.
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