HEINZ WINBECK (1946-2019): Complete Symphonies - No. 1 “Tu Solus” (Bruce Weinberger [tenor sax], Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Muhai Tang), No. 2 (ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (Dennis Russell Davies), No. 3 for Alto, Reciter and Orchestra “Grodek” (Christel Borchers [alto], Duo Smel [reciter], Deutsches Symphony Orchestra Berlin; Mathias Husmann), No. 4 for Alto, Baritone, Countertenor, Reciter, Chorus and Orchestra (Borchers [alto], Günter Binge [baritone], Werner Buchin [countertenor], Darmstadt Concert Choir, Beethoven Orchestra Bonn; Davies) and No. 5 “Jetzt und in der Stunde des Todes” (DSO Berlin; Davies).
Catalogue Number: 12W054
Description: The complete symphonic output - five large-scale works, all approaching or exceeding an hour - of an unique, striking and immensely powerful and impactful composer who seems to have viewed himself as the final summation of the German tradition of the Romantic symphony with its philosophical, intellectual, and spiritual overtones. Although all are based to a greater or lesser degree on tonality, and all share a preoccupation with forcefully hammering home some extramusical point with the greatest possible vehemence, they are as diverse in style and content as could possibly be. The First is dedicated to the memory of Sophie Scholl, executed as a member of the anti-Nazi resistance group "Weiße Rose" in 1943, and is clearly a "war symphony" steeped in furious protest. The Second was inspired by the "apocalyptic" Chernobyl disaster and the U.S. airstrikes on Libya in 1986, which Winbeck saw as harbingers of humankind's self-annihilation, while the Third, "Grodek" takes inspiration from Georg Trakl's eponymous poem that refers to the tragic devastation wrought by the WWI battle in that city, during which Trakl, as a medical lieutenant, witnessed unspeakable horrors. The massive Fourth, "De profundis" is a symphonic requiem, essentially an 80-minute cry of despair and a meditation on death, brought on by the death of the composer’s mother; it too draws on Trakl, this time his text "Revelation and Apocalypse", described as “a text held together only by remnants of narrative structures” which “strings together nightmarish pictures in free association", and passages from the Requiem Mass. The final symphony, titled "Now and at the hour of our death" from the Catholic Ave Maria, is constructed after Bruckner's unfinished Ninth Symphony, but does not attempt to be a completion of it. When the First was premiered in Donaueschingen in 1984 it apparently caused something of a scandal, more because of its unrelentingly confrontational expression and because it was not what people expected than because of any forbidding degree of modernity; the work is in fact the most consistently tonal of the five. It opens with a movement that consists of trenchantly aggressive, irregular unison phrases punctuated by an antiphonal onslaught of opposing artillery from the heavy drums. Having bludgeoned his audience with this for some ten minutes, the composer then alternates passages of of eerie calm and intense agitation - now with some thematic development - until the pounding recommences and ushers in the "slow movement". This is richly textured, glorious romanticism, increasingly Mahlerian - and in fact, it culminates in quoted material from Mahler's 3rd Symphony. The agitated material returns, now accompanied by a dolefully meandering solo saxophone, which becomes increasingly wild, agitated, fugitive and desperate. The symphony attempts a Mahlerian farewell, but the battering opening returns in a nihilistic conclusion. Symphony No.2 is larger than the first, and in three discrete movements. It begins with ominous whispering and rustling, an increasingly prominent Beethovenian - it sounds more Sibelian later on - scurrying motif, mindlessly repeating without development, and a detached, impersonal organ chorale, which fade in and out of the foreground throughout the movement. From time to time the music abruptly spasms into a fleeting attempt at a climax, but even as textures thicken, nothing emerges as dominant material. Menacing brass chords arise toward the end of the movement, and the mood grows stormy and threatening, and the storm breaks, spectacularly, at long last - to abruptly blow itself out revealing the ‘classical' string scherzo motif, sounding as though it had been there all along. The second movement begins like a monstrous distortion of a Beethoven scherzo, discordant, syncopated and restlessly propulsive; the material increasingly resembles one of Shostakovich’s motoric scherzi as it progresses. The galloping music finally crashes onto the battlefield, passes through the conflict, and evaporates. By complete contrast, the finale is a slow, hypnotically meditative chorale, with the solemn serenity of a Bruckner slow movement. Eventually a pulsing rhythm appears, like a heartbeat or a distant slow march, and moves gradually into the foreground, finally overwhelming the chorale entirely. The "Grodek" symphony, true to its title, is even more explicitly a war symphony than the 1st. It opens in the midst of battle, with a barrage of percussion artillery, which returns periodically between episodes of eerie, shell-shocked calm and the contralto's desolate, despairing intonation of lines from several of Trakl's poems. Even here, though, the rich, sonorous vocal line leads the music into phrases of radiant, Mahlerian beauty, short-lived as they may be. The movement, tellingly marked "Presto isterico" ends with a return to the battlefield. This leads without a break into a slow movement, Bergian, expressionistic, a post-apocalyptic no-man's-land, over which the contralto, evoking Mahler's 2nd Symphony, soars. The next movement is also slow, immobile, introduced by the unaccompanied contralto, after which the poem "Grodek" is finally heard, recited by a male voice; cataclysmic convulsions in the orchestra then usher in a haunted, nightmarish, expressionistic Nachtmusik, fitfully illuminated by flaring eruptions. The finale is a limping, distorted funeral march, haunted by flittering ghosts of rustic, sardonically burlesque scherzi and sentimental violin serenades, which lurches toward an apocalyptically chaotic conclusion. The huge Fourth Symphony is the most ambitious - scored for very large orchestra, vocal soloists, choir, speaker, and organ - the most extreme, and the one that strays most persistently away from a tonal foundation. The first movement begins with eerie, amorphous background chanting from the choir, while the speaker intones Trakl's disturbing, nightmarish stream of consciousness. Cluster chords from organ, and then chorus, usher in a jagged, disjointed Requiem æternam. The ensuing movements set sections of the Latin text for the soloists, assailed by explosive eruptions from the orchestra. Some choral passages of unearthly beauty punctuate the maelstrom, but by the end of the De profundis (movement III) all hell seems to have broken loose - though in a brief calm, the scherzo of Beethoven’s 9th can clearly be heard, before the screams of the damned obliterate it. The Lacrimosa that follows, though, is tonal, the baritone soloist accompanied by quiet, sonorous chords from brass and choir, later joined by other voices as it accumulates a crushing weight of texture. Limned in the darkest possible colours, this shadowy incantation is the tragic, despairing heart of the work. Towering brass chords blast through the increasingly dense choral texture, the clouds clear in a moment of radiance, and the stage is set for the emergence of the Dies irae, like a sped up newsreel of every war waged by humanity, initially viewed from a safe distance but drawing inexorably and dangerously closer. An eerie silence settles over the music, and finally the Tuba Mirum blasts out, the scene described in tones of delirious terror by the tremulous contralto - this challenging part requires a high degree of acting ability! The final Epilogue begins with the Dies irae plainchant in ethereal string chords, then the music builds a tumultuous climax; but the work ends with gentle entreaties from the soloists, and a final winding down, ending not with a bang or a whimper, but a clockwork mechanism running out. For his final symphony, Winbeck returned decisively to tonality - Brucknerian tonality, to be precise. As the story goes, a colleague suggested to Winbeck that he would be ideally suited to the task of producing a completion of Bruckner's unfinished finale for his 9th symphony. Winbeck studied the work as it stands in great depth, including the sketches for the finale, finally concluding that the result would not be close enough to what Bruckner would have done, so he declined. But the material would not let go of him, so instead he composed his own complete symphony, a magnificent hour-long work that could inadequately be described as a Bruckner symphony by Winbeck, or as a Winbeck symphony by Bruckner. Alongside plenty of material of Winbeck's own - overwhelmingly, and remarkably, in at the very least a compatible idiom (a certain intermittent exuberance in the use of percussion being perhaps the most notable divergence) - the symphony borrows liberally not only from the extant 9th, but plunders and freely adapts passages from the others as well, in addition to making use of three motives from the finale sketches, especially the remarkable unfinished final fugue, which Winbeck uses to stunning effect, deriving new material from Bruckner's countersubject and other voices in an extraordinary feat of compositional virtuosity that produces results that, dare we say it, rival anything that Bruckner actually did for sheer monumentality and sustained magnificence. If this description leaves you with the queasy feeling that you may be in the presence of a gargantuan chimera, let us assure you that there is nothing whatsoever grotesque about the work, and anyone who assesses the work solely on its merits and commanding grandeur and power would not hesitate to hail this as among the great symphonies of the century. Counts as 2 CDs for shipping.