Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, April 2011

The first instalment in this Naxos series of Henze’s guitar music was warmly welcomed by GF—review—so I had high hopes for this follow-up. And while I usually grumble about the variable sound quality of discs from this source, the Naxos collaboration with Bavarian Radio suggests this could be a notable exception.

There are two sets of pieces based on characters from Shakespeare, written a few years apart; the first is presented here (Guitar Sonata No. 1) and the second (Guitar Sonata No. 2) is included in Vol. 1 of this series. The German guitarist Franz Halász is the soloist in both. The portrait of Richard, Duke of Gloucester finds our villain in ruminative mode; Halász’s tone is warm and clear, and he’s not too closely miked. The unsettling rhythms drummed on the body of the guitar and the dissonances evoke the duality of Richard’s persona, the ‘bottled spider’ who blends outward charm with webby intrigue. All very different from the gentle, almost improvisatory, pick and strum of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and the impish antics of ‘Ariel’, from The Tempest.

Halász is a thoughtful and engaging musician, keenly attuned to the subtleties and colours of this piece; indeed, the gossamer lightness of Ariel’s music is beautifully realised, as is the inwardness of the doomed ‘Ophelia’ from Hamlet. There’s conflict, too, in the portrayal of ‘Touchstone, Audrey and William’ from As You Like It; here the music is slightly knottier and more confrontational, while that of ‘Oberon’, the fairy king from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is altogether more ethereal. Throughout there’s a pleasing scale to Halász’s playing that seems entirely right for sketches made with such economy and skill. A delightful work in every way.

In Carillon, Récitatif, Masque, Halász is joined by Anna Torge on the mandolin and Cristina Bianchi on the harp. Certainly the guitar and mandolin can work very well together…There the latter instrument’s astringency is a foil to the guitar’s more honeyed tones. Added to the harp they produce an enticing array of textures, the music now terse now lyrical, but always appealing. The harp sounds quite luminous in ‘Récitatif’, the lower strings resonating with satisfying woodiness, the upper ones wonderfully liquid. And what a delectable, good-natured bounce this trio brings to ‘Masque’.

The fairy-tale pictures, based on music from Henze’s opera Pollicino, make up a charming triptych; there’s no explicit programme here, the enclosing Moderato and Molto meno mosso warmly expressive, the central Allegretto played with point and sparkle. True, the emotional and dynamic range of these pieces isn’t particularly wide, but Halász shades and shapes what’s there with sensitivity and style. The recording is less spacious than before, but it’s perfectly adequate.

As expected the balance is rather different in Ode to an Aeolian Harp, recorded at a live concert. In the first movement the vibraphone adds a spooky shimmer to the mix that had me thinking of soundtracks to early SF movies. As for the innocent query in ‘Questions and Answers’, the answer may indeed be blowing in the wind, but it’s not a very reassuring one. The guitar takes a more prominent role in ‘To Philomena’, but much of the musical weight is carried by the band, which includes bongos and tom-toms. Halász’s solo playing in ‘To Hermann’ is adroitly done—proof that, unlike the ill-fated Gloucester, he is indeed ‘shaped for sportive tricks’.

A real mix of music here, ranging from the very accessible Shakespeare portraits and fairy-tale pictures to the somewhat austere sound-world of the Ode. In a sense it’s a bit like those artfully conceived concerts, where a tougher main work is preceded by more palatable ones. Don’t be tempted to leave the hall too soon, though, for this is a most rewarding disc from start to finish. Factor in decent sound—even in the live concert, which includes a smattering of applause—informative liner-notes and a super-budget price tag, and you have a winner.

Kenneth Keaton
American Record Guide, March 2011

Franz Halász…acquits himself with distinction in music that is demanding technically, intellectually, and aesthetically; and his colleagues are all more than equal to the task. This is Volume 2 of Halász’s series on Naxos (1 was reviewed S/O 2006, and contains Drei Tentos and Royal Winter Music 2, among other works).

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

CĂ©line Keating
Minor 7th, January 2011

The guitar music of German composer Hans Werner Henze, fiendishly complex and atmospheric, poses an exceptional challenge to perform. But German guitarist Franz Halász, winner of guitar competitions, frequent performer, and professor of music, rises effortlessly to the occasion on Guitar Music 2, the second volume in a series of Naxos recordings. Although Henze’s music is rooted in the classical tradition, much is atonal and abstract, often inspired by stories and fictional characters. The first piece, “Royal Winter Music, Guitar Sonata No. 1,” written in 1974–76, runs over 30 minutes in six sections, each based on one of Shakespeare’s characters. Halász brings distinct interpretations and moods to each section—percussive thumping on the guitar body and dissonance to mirror Richard III’s “destructive personality,” airy arpeggios that signify the spirit of Ariel, single notes of limpid grace for Ophelia. The piece is a tour de force of technical wizardary that stretches the limits of the guitar’s musical possibilities. In “Carillon, Récitatif, Masqueand” (1974) for mandolin, guitar and harp, the different sonorities among the instruments are explored. Its middle section, as well as the next piece, the simpler and more melodic “Three Fairy Tale Pictures,” from the children’s opera Pollicino (1980), give the listener the opportunity to further appreciate Halász’ exquisite lyricism and purity of tone. Finally, “To an Aeolian Harp,” written for guitarist David Tanenbaum, is a moody, interior work, in essence, a guitar concerto with a cycle of four “meditations” and 15 instruments, including a harp, alto, and viola de gamba. Throughout, Halász’ mastery of tone, dynamics, and technical brilliance are electrifying. It takes an uncommon guitarist to wrest such beauty from music this cerebral.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog, December 2010

Now I haven’t heard the first volume of Naxos’ collection of the guitar music of Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926), but if it’s anything like volume two (Guitar Music 2) (Naxos 8.557345), it is something very good indeed. Volume two centers around the beautifully executed and thoroughly conceived performances of guitarist Franz Halász. Henze’s music is quite difficult to play and Maestro Halász not only makes it seem easy, he brings out the logic of the music in ways that give comprehension, cohesion, and a great deal of pleasure to my ears.

There are four works represented here, covering the composer’s output between 1974 and 1986. The very beautiful “Guitar Sonata No. 1 on Shakespearean Characters” opens the program, and it is delightful. “Carillon, Recitatif, Masque” follows, scored for guitar, mandolin and harp. It too is extraordinarily attractive. Henze’s detailed concern for the sonoric possibilities at hand combines with his very fluid inventive genius, here and elsewhere. It’s music that is as modern as modern can be, yet has a sensuous quality that engages the listener on a visceral level.

The 1986 “Ode to an Aeolian Harp” joins Halász with a chamber ensemble. It further underscores Henze’s transparent, brightly colored musical palette. The wind-like play of phrasing and the somewhat brittle solo guitar response make for pure magic.

Great music, fabulous performances! Now I must hear Volume One. Henze should not be overlooked. He is a master and these are some compositional jewels.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Reviewing the first volume [Naxos 8.557344] back in April 2006, I commented that it now seems strange we once considered Hans Werner Henze to be at the cutting edge of modern music. He wrote two sets of Royal Winter Music each forming a Guitar Sonata and picturing Shakespearean characters. The gentle qualities of Romeo and Juliet; the airy spirit of Ariel spinning around; the sadness of Ophelia, and the dreamy state of Oberon concluding the work. In the previous year,1974, he had composed the Carillon, Recitatif, Masque for mandolin, guitar and harp. That plucked combination produces some fascinating and gorgeous sonorities in Carillon; the harp coming to the fore in Recitatif before the three come together for the short Masque. The Three Fairy Tale Pictures are taken from the opera, Pollicino, and have been arranged for guitar by Robert Evers. Not music for children as the composer intended, but they enjoy brevity. Ode to an Aeolian Harp comes close to a guitar concerto, and uses a chamber orchestra of fifteen solo instruments. In four movements, its atonality certainly doers not ask you to love it, the orchestral part often discordant. Franz Halasz is an agile and persuasive advocate. Anna Torge and Cristina Bianchi are the outstanding mandolin and harp soloists, the German-based ensemble Oktopus being specialists in modern music. The recordings were made from 2003 to 2008 by Bavarian Radio and mix concert and studio sessions.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group