The optimism of Hans Winterberg
Hans Winterberg described himself as “an artist belonging to the group of the unilaterally disadvantaged.’ That’s putting it mildly. This Czech composer was Jewish and was interred at Theresienstadt Ghetto during World War II.
He survived, and his postwar music has a surprising element of optimism.
Symphony No. 1 “Sinfonia drammatica” was composed in 1936. At the time, Winterberg was greatly influenced by Arnold Schoenberg.
The symphony is highly chromatic and has some of the angularity of dodecaphonic music. But Winterberg never totally abandons tonality.
Rather, he uses the freedom suggested by 12-tone music to take the work in unexpected directions. The music sounds Expressionist, and — true to its name — quite dramatic.
The 1948 Piano Concerto No. 1 shows Winterberg’s optimism. The melodies are still quite chromatic, and the angular motifs are there. But also present is a gentle lyricism that makes the work quite appealing.
Jonathan Powell is a fine soloist. I credit his playing for bringing the lyrical qualities of this concerto to the fore.
Rhythmophie from 1967 carries this integration of modernism and lyricism further. Yes, this work is all about rhythm. But the melodies are what drive the work forward. And here both the chromaticism and angularities have been softened.
Winterberg saw himself as a bridge between Slavic traditions and Western classical forms. This album traces the development of that concept. The symphony starts from the Western viewpoint of Schoenberg. The concerto balances the two influences. And Rhythmophie seems to use Eastern European rhythms as its starting point.
The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Johannes Kalitzke delivers some impressive performances. They sound as if they’ve been playing this music for years.
Hans Winterberg: Symphony No. 1 “Sinfonia drammatica”; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1; Rythmophie
Jonathan Powell, piano
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Johannes Kalitzke, conductor