Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


CD1, Live Concert from Berne, November 4th, 1969: Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 30 in E, Op.l09. Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-49) Nocturne in F sharp, Op. 15 No. 2. Etudes, Op. 25 – No. 6 in G sharp minor; No. 9 in G flat; No. 1 in A flat. Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31. Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Sonatine. Claude DEBUSSY Estampes. Franz LISZT (1811-86) Etude de Concert No. 2, 'Gnomenreigen'.

CD2: Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Italian Concerto. Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata in G, Op. 14 No. 2. Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56) Fantasiestücke, Op. 12.

CD3: Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas – C, Op. 2 No. 3; F, Op. 10 No. 2; D minor, Op. 31 No. 2; E flat, Op.31 No. 3.

CD4: Robert SCHUMANN Kinderszenen, Op. 15. Carnaval, Op. 9. Symphonic Studies, Op. 13.

CD5: CHOPIN Scherzos – B flat minor, Op. 31; C sharp minor, Op. 39 B minor, Op. 20. Three Nocturnes, Op. 9. Ballade in A flat, Op. 47.

CD6: Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Piano Sonatas – No. 2 in D minor, Op. 14; No. 4 in C minor, Op. 29. Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915) Six Preludes, Op. 13. Etude in B flat minor, Op. 8. Etude in C sharp minor, Op. 42. Dimitri KABALEVSKY (1904-87) Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 46. Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Piano Sonata (1924).

Werner Haas (piano).

DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM Archive MDG642 1086-2 [ADD] [six discs] [389'49] Recorded 1963-74.

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Werner Haas’ career was tragically cut short by a motor accident on October 11th, 1976 when his car collided with a truck near Nancy, France. It robbed us of a pianist whose stature has never, at least in the UK, been fully appreciated. Yet his recordings of Debussy piano works were awarded the Grand Prix du Disque and his Ravel recordings won the Amsterdam Edison Prize. Critics called him the successor to Gieseking (New York Times). These are no mean achievements and here, at last, is a real opportunity from the archives of South West German Radio and Swiss Radio to supplement his already extant, but relatively small, discography for Philips. And here, also, is an ideal chance for reassessment.

This six-disc set might, given wide enough coverage, go some way to redress this error of perspective. Haas had a natural affinity with the French Impressionists (try his Debussy sets on Philips Duo 438 718-2 and 438 721-2), but they take up a relatively small part of this collection. Instead we get a sense of the breadth of his repertoire, starting from Bach and moving through to a final disc as fascinating for its repertoire as it is gripping in its execution. The record-buying public is indeed lucky to have companies like Dabringhaus and Grimm to mine the archives in this fashion. The six discs are intelligently laid out.

The first is a live concert from Bern, Switzerland given on November 4th, 1969, preserved by Schweizer Radio DRS (Tonstudio Bern). He gives an inspired account of the first movement of Beethoven Op. 109, using a pearly touch to ensure maximum clarity: his articulation is consistently excellent. The opening gives a marvellous feeling of improvisation, yet from the first note the structural integrity of the entire movement is never in doubt. His second movement variations just fail to live up to the promise of the first, but this is not to decry the overall achievement. The theme is certainly ‘Gesangvoll’ as Beethoven directs, but is maybe the smallest fraction too fast. Some of the earlier variations are on the perfunctory side, perhaps in an effort to save the intensity for the final minutes. The third variation is turned into a manic toccata, all the more effective in its contrast to the fourth. This fourth variation marks a return to the inspired improvisation of the first movement. The final Allegro ma non troppo is rock-like in intent, with an almost palpable sense of resolve. The build-up which forms the heart of this final section is effective, without quite giving the necessary impression that the piano is about to burst under the harmonic and textural accumulations.

The Chopin pieces which follow reveal a musician hyper-sensitive to that composer's harmonic shifts. He refuses to let the Etude Op. 25 No. 9 sound hackneyed (it so easily can). Only the B flat minor Scherzo (the first of two appearances in this box: see Disc Five) threatens to come unstuck at one point. If the F sharp Nocturne shows Haas to be a true lyricist at heart, the Ravel Sonatine confirms his haute-sensitivité to Gallic repertoire and is invaluable as a supplement to his commercial French recordings. There is great joy to be gleaned from both this piece and the ensuing account of Debussy's Estampes. Listen to the egg-shell delicacy of the Ravel or the evocative pseudo-Orientalism of Debussy's ‘Pagodes’. The two (deserved) encores are exemplary: the voice-leading of Chopin’s A flat Etude is a perfectly-realised aural Schenker-graph; in contrast, Gnomenreigen is a virtuoso, mischievous tour-de-force. The first time I heard this disc, I had to go straight to CD two to see if the standard could be met ...

The second disc begins a (nearly) chronological five-CD progression through the centuries from Bach to Stravinsky. The Italian Concerto (recorded in 1972: dates placed like this after works henceforth denote date of recording) is robust and very much of its time. The first movement is big-boned, the last not very Presto. The second movement, however, successfully projects the idea of aria with string accompaniment. His Beethoven Op. 14 No. 2 (rec 1975), also, would not stand up to an authenticist approach today, but on its own terms is wholly convincing. The first movement is hardly Beethoven’s recommended Allegro (and even within that slower tempo there is a certain amount of over-beautification), but one can only marvel at Haas’s articulation and harmonic clarity. In fact, overall he elevates the stature of this Sonata by refusing to see it as ‘easy’ or ‘light’ but by lavishing much care and attention on it: it emerges as the miniature masterpiece it really is. Finally for Disc Two, Schumann's Phantasiestücke (1975) is given a good, if not heart-stoppingly revelatory, performance. There is certainly intimacy here, but a comparison with Argerich (live on EMI, CDC5 57101-2) reveals a shift to a higher plane. The second movement, ‘Aufschwung’, is decidedly earthbound in Haas’s version and his ‘Grillen’ runs out of steam, but it is in ‘Fabel’ that the difference is most marked. The schizophrenic shifts are almost apologetically managed, whereas Argerich unsurprisingly has no such qualms and is all the more successful in her portrayal because of it.

Discs Three-Five all feature a single composer each. Disc Three is devoted to Beethoven, and was recorded in 1963/4. These are the earliest recordings of the set, and the piano sound is indeed thin. Having said that, there is so much to enjoy it hardly matters. Again, an early sonata (Op. 2 No. 3) is accorded the weight it deserves. Haas brings an apt simplicity to the opening of the second movement, but impresses most of all in the finale with its sparkling finger-work and a left-hand trill so even that I would willingly buy it off him. Perhaps he does stretch the limits of style in the perfectly formed Sonata Op. 10 No. 2, but his accounts of two of the Op. 31 Sonatas are in general excellent (just compare Haas with Louis Lortie’s catalogue of miscalculations on Chandos CHAN9842). The recitatives of the first movement of Op. 31 No. 2 are grippingly done and Haas calls on almost orchestral sonorities in the Adagio. Only the final Allegretto disappoints. Despite being quite fast, he does not quite maintain the dramatic momentum in this notoriously tricky movement. Op. 31 No. 3 reveals intelligent structural grasp. His refusal to over-pedal is praise-worthy and I particularly like his way with syncopated accents in the Scherzo.

Haas’s Schumann perhaps does not live up to the standards set thus far, something hinted at by his Phantasiestücke on Disc Two. The performances of Disc Four date from 1972/3. The recorded sound is clangy (and is set at a higher level), which hardly helps to draw the listener in to the intimacies of Kinderszenen (1972). Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy along the way: the dexterity of ‘Hasche-Mann’ is most impressive, and ‘Träumerei’ is given with eloquent simplicity, showing Haas is intelligent enough a musician to know when to leave a piece alone. Carnaval is the first real musical disappointment of the set. The opening 'Préambule' is leaden, and one never throughout the performance enters into the world of the Commedia dell' arte, nor is Schumann’s schizophrenic nature tellingly projected. It is certainly true that there are some beautiful moments to be treasured along the way (the beautifully limpid ‘Chopin’ being one of them) but this in no way amounts to a great interpretation of this elusive piece. The Symphonic Studies similarly pose a multitude of interpretative challenges and, in general, all goes well until the finale. Haas falls into the trap of not generating the requisite cumulative energy from Schumann’s obsessive repetitions, and he also lets the lyrical episodes languish. There is simply not enough contrast or build-up and the result is a disappointing, almost tedious end to this disc with an interpretation that at one point threatens to disintegrate.

The all-Chopin fifth disc (all 1971 except for the Op. 47 Ballade, 1966), in contrast, presents Haas at his most compelling. His B flat minor Scherzo, Op. 31 is bolder than that heard way back on Disc One. He is freer in the lyrical passages, and has the listener hanging on every note. If he could be more capricious in the contrasting filigree of the C sharp minor Scherzo, his B minor is an impressive achievement of dexterity. The Op. 9 Nocturnes seem to have been recorded in a more resonant acoustic, but his A flat Ballade is a success. After a beautifully intimate opening, Haas stresses the contrasts inherent in the composition.

On the first five discs, as can be seen from the above, there was more than enough food for thought, with plenty of musical satisfaction along the way. But the sixth disc is worth the price of all the discs put together. Haas’s grasp of Prokofiev’s world is remarkable. He realises the balance of violence and lyricism of the Second Sonata (1974) well (seeming to enjoy the violence in particular!). His Scherzo is manic, his Andante calmly, but perfectly, Russian, his final movement virtuoso. The quirky first movement of the same composer’s Fourth Sonata is excellently done (this sonata was recorded eight years earlier). He reveals in these pieces that he can be appropriately spiky and in the case of the Andante assai of the Fourth Sonata leads the listener into Prokofiev’s dark side.

Haas brings out the Chopin influence on Scriabin in the selection of Preludes and Etudes (1974) here. The A minor Prelude from Op.13 displays Haas’s flair for florid finger-work, while the C sharp minor Etude gives him an opportunity to reveal his truly passionate side.

In many ways, the Kabalevsky Third Piano Sonata (1974) is the revelation of the set. Horowitz gave the US premiere of this piece which should simply be heard more often. Haas underlines the shadows of the slow movement, builds the first to a true climax and delivers the echt-Slav, spiky finale to perfection. I do urge you to hear this. The set ends with an energizing performance (again from 1974) of Stravinsky’s 1924 Sonata. The etude-like finale shows not only the strength of Haas's fingers (as if that could be in doubt by this point), but also his capacity for wit. It is an appropriate end to a superb compilation to which I shall be returning many times.

Colin Clarke

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