Hans Werner Henze

Nachtstücke und Arien (1957)

Los Caprichos (1963)

Englische Liebeslieder (1984-5)

Juliane Banse, soprano; Narek Kakhnazaryan, cello;

ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conductor

NAXOS 8.574181

Hans Werner Henze is due a revival. His excellent operas and stylistically varied pieces for orchestra, voices, and chamber forces are some of the most distinguished music written by a German composer since the Second World War. Why then does he seem to take a backseat to others, from Stockhausen to Rihm, in terms of acknowledgement and performances? Henze’s music sits astride postwar modernism and the New Romanticism that have been pervasive influences in Germany, not fitting easily into either camp yet serving as an indispensable influence for both. It is perhaps that, without an easy pigeon hole, his work is deemed harder to program. Marin Alsop and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra have made a recording for Naxos that may help to correct the undue neglect. 


Nachtstücke und Arien (1957) is cast in five movements, two of them vocal settings of poetry by Ingeborg Bachmann, a frequent collaborator and librettist for Henze, and the others “night music” interludes in an expressionist idiom. Julian Banse is magnificent in the arias, singing the angular, high-lying lines with consummate control and ardent lyricism.


Alsop accentuates dynamic contrasts in her interpretations, which lends itself well to the  muscular orchestration of the night music pieces and Los Caprichos (1963), a Fantasia for orchestra based on a series of nine engravings by Goya. Los Caprichos is an evocative set of pieces, with Henze’s writing at its most Bergian. Englische Liebeslieder (1984-1985) are songs without words for cello and orchestra, with one of the songs forgotten by the composer: the marking “Tango” is substituted. Here the orchestration is more supple, encircling the cello solo without ever overwhelming it. Cellist Narek Kakhnazaryan plays with beautiful tone, vibrato, and long phrases that highlight the resplendent romanticism of the piece.


The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra displays a keen understanding of the styles employed by Henze. One hopes that Alsop will join them to record more of Henze’s music.  It is one of our Favorites for 2022. 


-Christian Carey