Exploring Lutz-Werner Hesse

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HESSE: “Ich habe dich gewählt,” Symphonic Poem No. 2 / Iris Marie Sojer, mezzo; Thomas Braus, spkr; Wuppertaler Bühnen Opera Chorus; “Amici del Canto”; Wuppertal Symphony Orch., cond. Julia Jones (live: Wuppertal, December 16, 2019) / Infinite Landscape: 2 Orchestral Pictures / Bremerhaven Philharmonic Orch., cond. Marc Niemann (live: Bremerhaven, June 12, 2018) / Musicaphon M55727

On this disc I was introduced to the music of German composer Lutz-Werner Hesse (b. 1955), who since 1984 has been a full-time lecturer and now Professor and Managing Director of the Wuppertal campus of Höchschule für Musik in Cologne.

His Symphonic Poem No. 2, “Ich habe dich gewählt,” is described as a “post-avant-garde” work which “leads harmony away from free atonality, dodecaphony and serial constructs back to the relationship of intervals, sounds, timbres and forms, which consciously includes the experiences and achievements of past centuries in its own musical language.” Translation: it is primarily tonal music but tonal with somewhat more complex layers of tones. This makes it accessible to the average listener while still interesting to those who seek something a bit more complex than the usual older music they grew up on.

And Hesse provides this, using melodic lines that actually have a recognizable form yet do not pander to the constant need for tunes one can hum. In the “Song of My Life” section, for instance, he uses a melody built on a descending Phrygian mode, which sounds relatively tonal to the average listener (several of the old modes do indeed sound like “normal” tonal music, sometimes with just one note out of the expected sequence). Since the text is only given in the booklet in German, I had to use Google Translate to get some idea of what was being sung, so I apologize for any phrases or sentences that look a little weird here:

The day is completely shrouded in fog
Dead all worlds meet –
Hardly drawn like on a silhouette.
How long has no heart been mild to mine …
The world grew cold, man faded.
– Come, pray with me – because God comforts me.
Where is the breath that has left my life?
– I roam homeless with the game
Dreaming through pale times – yes I loved you.
Where should I go when the north storm roars cold?
– The shy animals from the landscape dare –
And I – in front of your door, a bunch of plantain.
Soon tears washed away all the heavens
At whose goblets poets quenched their thirst,
You and me too.
And your lip that was like mine
Is now aimed blindly at me like an arrow.

Parts of this piece are not all that gripping because they’re based on religious music, and religious music is generally mushy hogwash, but it’s clearly a well-conceived piece. But the performance itself is first-rate, even including a mezzo-soprano (Iris Marie Sojer) with a very fine voice and not one but two choruses.

Infinite Landscape is a different animal, a two-movement suite (slow-fast) inspired by the vast panorama that Hesse saw while visiting America. Here, from the very opening, he uses a less tonally resolved harmonic framework, and in fact the harmony does not develop very much. Rather, it stays in place for long stretches of time, building tension, before a change comes along with the development. Oddly, there seemed to me a similarity, at least in method if not entirely in structure, to Gustav Mahler, and I found this score mesmerizing.

The second (fast) movement, interestingly enough, has a quasi-American sound to it—in fact, almost like the minimalist music of Philip Glass, only better and more interestingly written. Mostly it stays in Eb, yet somehow also morphs into neighboring keys—then back again within a bar or two.

This is a very interesting CD, which makes me want to look forward to more music by Hesse. Well done all around!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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