Pavel Haas was one of that group of important Czechoslovakian composers who were interned in Terezin (Theresienstadt). Finally they were murdered in the gas chambers. Unlike Viktor Ullmann, who has risen head and shoulders above his compatriots, if only because of the huge amount of music he wrote, Haas’s output is small, but his is a very refined voice. Haas studied with Janácek; you can hear the master at work quite clearly in the piano writing in the Suite for oboe and piano
. He also inherited some of the older composer’s melodic angularity and fondness for rich harmonies.
is quite austere, and problematic in some ways, not least in the elusive strain of melody which pervades the piece. You aren’t going to be whistling the tunes after a single hearing, but they are always in your mind as a presence. You have to return to the work for it has a depth which isn’t immediately obvious. Although marked furioso
I don’t find the first movement in any way furious. I am at a loss to understand this marking for although the music protests it always resolves, which isn’t what one would expect from fury – unless you’re moving from Kansas to Oz. The piano writing in this movement is slightly reminiscent of Janácek’s Concertino
. The middle, scherzo, movement, marked con fuoco
, is fiery and has a lot to be angry about. This is very well worked out, as is the more gentle and easy-going finale. This is a moderato
, a kind of pastoral scene which isn’t quite as idyllic as you might at first think. This is a very fine work. If you like Charles Koechlin’s Oboe Sonata
you’ll find much to enjoy here.
The last of Haas’s three Quartets is a master-piece. It is forthright, powerful, succinct. It uses just the right number of notes to say what it has to; what a marvel this composer could be! The first movement is, again, quite argumentative. It has time for reflection in the shape of a lyrical second subject but its respite is short-lived. I feel a menace here. There’s always something in the music, even when it’s at its quietest, which is emotionally disturbing. Although the spirit of Janácek hangs, somewhat obviously in places, over the work, Haas has an original voice that has absorbed that of his teacher. I imagine that the slight reminiscences of the older composer are subconscious. The ending is as enigmatic as anything Haas ever wrote. The slow middle movement has an occasional feel of Debussy about it, as the recitative makes its way from soliloquy to song. The finale, a theme and variations, starts deeply-felt which makes one realise, all the more, the loss of a great chamber music composer. It ends with a fugue of strange harmonies and peculiar tonality.
The disk starts with the early Wind Quintet
, a slightly more difficult work than one would imagine from this composer. Perhaps the difficulty stems from the fact that the wind quintet is notoriously difficult to write for. Rather like the string quartet, it delivers a monochromatic sound. Unlike the string ensemble, it lacks the range or the ability to employ the very high register afforded the violin. There’s a lot of interest in this work. This stems from the chatter of the first movement. The third movement is like a slowed-down version of Janácek’s March of the Blue Boys
(which became the third movement of Mladi
). It has a delightfully bluff sense of fun. This is quite a serious work, despite the scherzo, but it is most enjoyable once your ears adjust to the overall sound of the music.
Despite what I have written concerning which composers the music sounds like I don’t mean to imply that Haas is obviously derivative, I only want to give some idea of the influences absorbed into his style. This is fine music that can stand by itself and is the work of an obviously individual voice. Haas should be heard and this disk is as good an introduction as any I have heard. The sound is good. Every strand of the music can be clearly heard but I felt a slight tiredness throughout and it isn’t as bright as it might have been. The performances are very good.