Marek Janowski

Hans Werner Henze: Symphony No. 9

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This second recording of Henze's monumental Ninth Symphony again features Rundfunkchor Berlin, the choir that gave it its premiere in 1997, with the Berlin Philharmonic, led by Ingo Metzmacher. In Wergo's 2009 release of the seven-movement symphony, Marek Janowski conducts the choir, with Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. Henze was aware of the expectations created by a "ninth symphony" -- that it be an artistic summation, a work of considerable substance that addresses a universal theme -- and he takes on the devastation of the suffering caused by the Nazi regime, and the courage of those who attempted to stand against it. Henze has the chorus, using texts by his frequent collaborator Hans-Ulrich Treichel, based on a Holocaust novel by Anna Seghers, singing almost continuously, except for an orchestral epilogue to the fifth movement. The scoring is so chorally and orchestrally dense that it's difficult to tell precisely whether it is Henze's labyrinthine writing or a flaw of engineering that accounts for the tendency of the sound to be somewhat murky, but the responsibility is probably the composer's, because the moments that are lightly scored, particularly the final movement, stand out in strong relief. That is not necessarily a flaw in the music, given its horrific subject matter, but a testimony to Henze's success in creating a harrowing atmosphere of confusion and disoriented terror. This is not music that can be experienced dispassionately; it compels the listener to either succumb and be drawn into the power of its nightmarish imagery or turn away from it. The choir and orchestra perform the demanding score with relentless intensity and passion. Henze's Ninth Symphony is not for the weak of heart, but for listeners willing to confront the overwhelming horrors it so grippingly portrays, and it can be immensely moving.

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