Hans Winterberg: orchestral works (Capriccio)

The lost sounds of a German Jewish composer

Artillery Row Lebrecht's Album of the Week


Among thousands of composers who were banned and oppressed by the Nazis, the case of Hans Winterberg is seriously peculiar. A German-speaking Prague Jew, Winterberg fled after the war to Bavaria, where he received an icy welcome. He lived there in virtual oblivion until his death in 1991.

It’s a freshly imagined sound world, intriguing and attractive

In 2002, his adopted son Christoph Winterberg sold his catalogue of works to the Sudeten German Music Institute under the condition that it should not see light before 2031. The composer’s grandson Peter Kreitmeir challenged this ruling in court and, with the help of Arnold Schoenberg’s grandson, obtained judgement that it could be published and performed. Boosey & Hawkes took on the publication and Berlin’s radio orchestra last year gave this, the first public recording of his orchestral works.

Was it worth the wait? In parts, yes. A first symphony dated 1936 sounds so close to Alban Berg, it scarcely arouses curiosity. Competent, for sure, but not new.

The first of four piano concertos, written in 1948, has more novelty, although splashes of Bartok and Prokofiev are abundantly in evidence. The key revelation here is a 30-minute piece from 1966–67 titled Rhythmophonie, a work that blends pre-War Janacek naturalism with a post-Stravinskian emphasis on beat and propulsion. It’s a freshly imagined sound world, intriguing and attractive. If there is more of this inventive level in the Wittenberg locker, I really want to hear it.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover