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Alois HÁBA (1893-1973)
Piano Works:

Scherzo Op.2 No.1 (1917-18) [5:34]
Intermezzo Op.2 No.2 (1917-18) [6:31]
Six Piano Pieces Op.6 (1920) [15:29]
Four Dances Op.39 [17:33]
Shimmy-Fox [3:54]
Romance [2:20]
Waltz [2:29]
Toccata. Quasi una Fantasia Op.38 (1931) [8:48]
Six Moods Op.102 (1971) [7:54]
Tomáš Víšek (piano)
rec. SR Studios and Domovina Studios, Prague, 1996
SUPRAPHON SU 3146-2 131 [71:12]

Novák, Alois Hába’s composition teacher, apparently referred to his pupil as a “harmony fidget”. This would have been around 1923 or 1924 when Hába was admitted, at the relatively advanced age of thirty, to Novák’s class. He meant the constantly changing harmonic palette, the brazenly and kaleidoscopically shifting key signatures. Doubtless this exasperated Novák but Hába was clearly already serving notice of his own personal forms of evolution.

However very little here, and that includes the late Op.102 Six Moods, will bring to mind Hába’s experimentation with micro-intervals. Instead the bulk of these piano pieces relate to the gargantuan vogue for popular dance forms and digested jazz rhythms in Czechoslovakia At the time.

So the early Scherzo is deeply rooted in lyric nineteenth century soil albeit with some of those Novákian fidgety moments enshrined. Almost immediately however, in its opus mate the Intermezzo, we find a very different perspective. This is a far more advanced piece, harmonically on the move in the best sense and textually fuller and richer. The Six Piano Pieces show a further concentration and absorption. They date from his later studies with Schreker in Vienna and display a new influence, that of Scriabin. Maybe being in post-Mahlerian Vienna encouraged Hába to write a mocking March; the final piece however does have a still, cool expressionism about it, doubtless inspired by his teacher.

The Four Dances Op.39 are unfortunately undated in Supraphon’s documentation. But Hába, as with Schulhoff and Ježek, sailed close to dance band winds. The Shimmy, Blues, Boston and Tango are just the things Schulhoff was feasting on at around the same time. But Hába also mines Moravian sources for his extrapolation on American dance forms and they cohere well to produce a certain swaggering surety. There’s really nothing much mournful about Hába’s Blues but there is something songful about it.

He returns to a Mahlerian sounding Waltz complete with reveille calls. And in the Toccata, a strong and personal work, he mines some crepuscular and brooding material. Víšek is strong on the digital demands of this. Much later, in the Six Moods Op.102, which was written two years before his death, we find some elliptical but not off-putting writing; late expressionism maybe though the style is now very much sparer and he’s still able to play games with dichotomous registers, pitting bass and treble very much at odds in the Allegretto. This is Hába without anything to prove.

Tomáš Víšek proves a commanding exponent and his real gifts of lucidity of texture are very finely on show in this recital. With a warm recording in the SR and Domovina studios his touch is highly persuasive. Above all he demonstrates that Hába, whatever one may have heard to the contrary, can be fun as well as serious.

Jonathan Woolf


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