Stimulating Performances of Henze and Turnage but the Scharoun Ensemble Disappoint in Schubert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Henze, Turnage, Schubert: Scharoun Ensemble Berlin [Christophe Horak (violin), Rachel Smidt (violin), Micha Afkham (viola), Claudio Bohorquez (cello), Peter Riegelbauer (double bass), Alexander Bader (clarinet), Markus Weidmann (bassoon), Stefan de Leval Jezierski (horn).  Wigmore Hall, London. 13.2.2016. (LB)

Hans Werner Henze Quattro Fantasie: Prefazione, Sonata, Cadenza, Adagio (Epilogo)

Mark-Anthony  Turnage – This Silence (1992 rev.1993)

Schubert– Octet in F D803 (1824) 

The Scharoun Ensemble comprises players drawn from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and prides itself on its dedication to music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Its programme at the Wigmore Hall last night brought us music for an octet of strings and wind from each of those centuries alongside Schubert’s Octet, a nineteenth century masterpiece of the genre.

Hans Werner Henze’s music has not, to my knowledge at least, commanded a particularly big following in either London or Germany, and I have often wondered whether it was really his music, or possibly his political and personal outlook that lay at the heart of this paradox; a 70th birthday concert celebration in his hometown of Gütersloh played to a very small audience in a very big hall.

It was a real pleasure therefore to hear his uniquely uncompromising but powerfully compelling music. The Scharoun Ensemble rose impeccably well to the intellectual and technical challenges presented by the four fantasias for octet, Quattro Fantasie, from Henze’s Kammermusik, and performed with great musical coherence.

Mark Anthony-Turnage is a composer at the forefront of contemporary British composition, and he was present at the Wigmore Hall to hear the piece that the Cologne Philharmonic Hall commissioned from him for the Scharoun Ensemble in 1992.

His Octet, This Silence, is in two movements, Dance and Dirge, both relatively brief, but they afford the listener a succinct glimpse into his musical temperament.

Turnage’s music can at times be at least as abrasive and manic as that of his mentor, Hans Werner Henze, and in this composition for octet, serene meanderings skilfully alternated with more rhythmic and declamatory outbursts. The Scharoun Ensemble’s meticulous performance earned the generous applause of the Saturday evening Wigmore Hall audience, and the composer gracefully acknowledged their enthusiasm.

After the interval came Schubert’s exceedingly well known, and loved, Octet. It is a work that can instantly reveal much about an ensemble’s musical, intellectual, and technical integrity, but most significantly also, its commitment to the collaborative essence of chamber music. At over an hour’s duration, it also is also a challenging test of stamina.

For an ensemble of the stature enjoyed by the Scharoun Ensemble of Berlin, their performance of Schubert’s Octet proved to be curiously lacklustre.

Whilst their performance was never less than energetic, and benefited from some excellent individual contributions, especially some exquisite solos from cellist Claudio Bohorquez, recurrent moments of scruffy ensemble and intonation undermined integrity somewhat, and induced an atmosphere of unease.

It is of course possible that the ensemble’s commitment to the music of Henze and Turnage had on this occasion consumed so much of the available rehearsal time that the Schubert, a piece of standard repertoire that they will undoubtedly have performed innumerable times, had to be left to chance?

The music is of itself extraordinarily uplifting, and the audience responded with the kind of joy that Schubert invariably has a habit of stimulating.

The Scharoun Ensemble of Berlin and the Wigmore Hall ought to be congratulated for their very bold first half programming, and I for one would gladly hear more Henze, and twenty-first century British music.

Leon Bosch

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