HANS WINTERBERG (1901-1991): Symphony No.1 “Sinfonia drammatica”, Rhythmophonie, Piano Concerto No. 1.
Catalogue Number: 05X001
Description: The rediscovery of Winterberg, the bizarrely eclipsed member of the generation of persecuted composers that included Viktor Ullmann, Erwin Schulhoff and Hans Krása and so tragically many others (unlike them, Winterberg survived the Nazis) continues apace with these three major orchestral works. The tale of "attempts to re-write history, suppress biographies and impose false identities" is admirably detailed by Michael Haas at https://forbiddenmusic.org/2021/05/27/the-winterberg-puzzles-darker-and-lighter-shades/ . As we have come to expect, any suggestion of the lightweight and frivolous are resolutely absent - scarcely surprising, given the circumstances under which he was brought up and the displacements that he later suffered. The first symphony delivers exactly what the title promises. The 1936 work is a terse, compressed single span, redolent throughout of the tensions and dangers of Europe at the time. Its themes sound like alarums and premonitions, and nostalgic recollections of tranquility menaced by fanfares and ominous tramping feet. In keeping with the general trend observable in his other works to have come to light to date, the 1948 Piano Concerto No.1 is a good deal more conventionally tonal and less dissonant than the symphony. A most attractive work in traditional three-movement form, it lasts a succinct but eventful quarter of an hour. The first movement, Prelude, is flowing, with rippling piano figuration. The slow movement has a predominantly sombre, heavy tread, suggesting a funeral march at the outset and conclusion, though giving way to a mysterious nocturnal landscape in the central section. The concluding "Epilogue" is brusque, trenchant and motoric, with a substantial, energetic cadenza. Rhythmophonie is a much later work, from the mid-1960s, but much of it sounds like a product of the futurist machine age of the early 20th century. Complex, constantly changing rhythms were a hallmark of the composer’s early, more harmonically astringent period, but they are present in abundance here. The composer never heard it performed; a projected performance was cancelled as the work was considered too difficult to rehearse. The first movement is driven, with clangorous ostinato mechanisms (and at times distinct echoes of Le sacre, whatever that might mean). The music is thrilling, if ultimately somewhat hectoring, even threatening; its strongly tonal basis is disrupted by a high degree of dissonance and the percussive timbres of the orchestration. The the second movement may be "Very Calm", but this is a deceptive calm, tense, oppressive and foreboding. The movement is prefaced by a quotation from the philosopher Günther Anders: “Total quietness is not the absence of sound, but hearing a single sound that is lifted out of the silence … " The rhythmic pulse here is steady, but intensely ominous. The last movement has a balletic sense of movement (though the profusion of layered polyrhythms would make it impossible to dance to), and something of a sense of expressionist tragedy- a city in decay, its nightclubs' desperate gaiety oblivious to the advancing cataclysm, perhaps. In any event, the ending is brutal, poundingly militaristic in its finality. Jonathan Powell (piano), Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Johannes Kalitzke.