Alexander Liebreich / Münchener Kammerorchester

Harald Genzmer: Werke für Kammerorchester

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Although some composers in Germany do not hold the music of Harald Genzmer in high regard, all agree that as a human being he is truly one of the great figures in German music, helping rebuild the concert scene AND musical education in Germany in the wake of the tragic wastes of World War II. Still active in June 2007, Genzmer was 98 years old and had produced more than 300 compositions, and yet he is mainly known in Germany. While Genzmer does not deny the European avant-garde its reason to exist, he has never held a subscription to it -- his music is straightforward and tonally based, though strongly informed by modern stylists such as Stravinsky, Bartók, and especially his teacher Paul Hindemith.

German label Thorofon has been working on a recorded cycle of collected works of Genzmer for some time; this volume, Harald Genzmer: Werke für Kammerorchester, focuses on some of his small concertino-styled concerti, in this case solos pieces for piano, violin, oboe, and a sinfonia for strings. The Erstes Concertino für Klavier und Streichorchester mit Flöte (1946) is striking for a work that chronologically follows the war so hard; it is light, abundant in a kind of life-affirming radiance and lyricism, yet only very slightly tinged with loss and sadness. That is, for at least the first two movements. The third-movement Finale becomes involved in some rather predictable gestures that suggest a mixed heritage of Baroque and Classical ideas; a pity, as the first two movements are so strong. Both the Konzert für Violine und Orchester (1959) and the Zweite Sinfonie für Streichorchester (1958) are reminiscent, and even to some extent derivative of, Bartók. The Sinfonia is the better of the two, owing to its cogent rhythmic pulse and "black and white" scoring for strings, similar to Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho, which, of course, was still in the future in 1958. The Kammerkonzert für Oboe und Streichorchester (1957) is very graciously written for the oboe, so much so that one wonders why this appears to be its only recording on CD, so starved are oboe players for good concertos.

There is a sameness of texture among these works, particularly in the pieces from the late ‘50s. Genzmer likes to score for strings in large chains of fourths, is fond of triplet rhythms against the count in four, and takes a predictable path for the most part in his development schemes. The music sounds nice, but one wishes sorely that Genzmer would step out of his comfort zone once in awhile and make a bold stroke just for the sake of variety. Genzmer is never going to do that, and this has led some of his European colleagues to accuse him of complacency. However, this music is well crafted, and some of it rather inspired, particularly the Concertino. The Münchener Kammerorchester, which hails from Genzmer's hometown of Munich, certainly understands his idiom well and turns in respectful and, at times, sparkling performances of his works. Those with a strong taste for neo-Classicism should consider investigating Genzmer, and it appears that Thorofon's Harald Genzmer: Werke für Kammerorchester may well be as good a place to start as any.

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