Of all living composers generally accorded a place in the upper echelons, Hans
Werner Henze is one of the most difficult to classify. German by birth, his
musical inclinations are toward the earmarks of the French manner. To call him
a German Stravinsky is to propound an oxymoron, but the description comes
This week’s Monday Evening Concert at the County Museum had as its final work a
major Henze score, 32 years old but unplayed on the West Coast up to now,
called, simply, “Chamber Music.” It is a work of great beauty, in that
special Henze manner in which beauty seems suspended in a dark void, both cold
and compelling.
The work, which runs 45 minutes, is a setting of a fragmentary text by the
mystical poet Friedrich Holderlin, meditations on beauty and on the
relationship of mankind to divinity. Henze has divided the text into six
sections, sung by tenor accompanied by guitar and, once in a while, a few wind
instruments. Between these songs, and again framing the entire work, are
passages for guitar, some solo and some with strings and winds. Quiet and
haunting, this is music that stays in the memory.
A recording exists, with the tenor Neil Jenkins on the Koch-Schwann label, but
Monday’s performance, conducted by Gerhard Samuel (one-time Los Angeles
Philharmonic associate conductor, now based in Cincinnati) was altogether
superior. Tenor Randall Gremillion curled his light, fluent voice beautifully
around Holderlin’s redolent poetry; guitarist David Tanenbaum, {cq} known on
his own for splendid recorded performance of Henze’s solo works, brought his
refined artistry to bear on this score. In a season marked by an unusual number
of truly rewarding new-music events, this one ranks high.
The concert began with Gremillion and the instrumental ensemble in an excerpt
from another major, neglected score, Luciano Berio’s wildly experimental work
of 1970 called, simply, “Opera.” (This was an evening for music with generic
titles.) It continued with Tanenbaum’s expert performance of Peter Maxwell
Davies’ rather faceless solo Guitar Sonata. Samuel himself was represented by
his “Outcries and Consolations,” a work for chamber ensemble, in its world
Samuel, German-born and, later, a disciple of Paul Hindemith, is a composer of
some skill, in a rather academic style. Now and then some of his music gives
off sparks, but the new work seemed, on first hearing, like so much proficient
tinkering. On its own, however, the craftsmanship was constantly

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