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Hans HAUG (1900-1967)
Concertino for guitar and small orchestra (1950) [21:44]
Wind Quintet (Completed by Hanna Horobetz, 2018) [05:30]
Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet, Op.143 (1950) [24:01]
Marisa Minder (guitar)
Il piccolo orchestra/Alexander Zemtsov
Basel Philharmonic Quintet
rec. 2019, Evangelische-Reformierte Kirche Arlesheim, Germany
NAXOS 8.551426 [51:19]

The unfamiliar name here is that of Hans Haug. Indeed, the booklet essay by Professor Dominik Sackmann (of the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Zurich) begins by telling the reader that Haug is a “musician known very well in the Swiss music world” but known only to ‘insiders’ of that world. Speaking as someone who is very definitely not an ‘insider’ in that world, I have to say that I came to this disc with little or no previous knowledge of Haug. From Professor Sackman’s essay and some further research, I now know that Haug was born in Basel, studied piano (one of his teachers being Egon Petri!) and cello at the Conservatoire in the same city, before further studies in Berlin (with Busoni) and Munich. Thereafter he worked as a conductor and began a career as a composer of operas and operettas. From 1935 to 1938 he was conductor of the Orchestre de la Radio Suisse Romande and from 1938 to 1945 of the Radio Orchestra Beromünster. He taught harmony and counterpoint at the Lausanne Conservatory from 1947 to 1960, while continuing to conduct and compose.

In 1950, with his very first composition for the guitar, he won (with the Concertino on this disc) one of two prizes at a competition for guitar compositions at the Accademia Musicale Chigiano in Siena. Prizewinners were scheduled to have their compositions premiered by Segovia (who was one of the judges) in 1952. However, Segovia didn’t play Haug’s Concertino either in 1952 or later, though he did play Cavatina, the other prizewinning piece, by Alexandre Tansman. Despite what must have been a serious disappointment, Haug developed further his interest in the guitar, taking lessons with José de Azpiazu to increase his understanding of the instrument. He continued to compose pieces for the guitar, including Alba (which Segovia did record), Preludio for solo guitar (c.1954), Fantasia for Guitar and Piano (1957) and Capriccio for Flute and Guitar (1963). Other compositions for solo guitar include Etude (Rondo Fantastico), Passacaglia and Prelude, Tiento et Toccata – I haven’t been able to discover the composition dates for these three pieces. Still, these were only part of Haug’s output, which also included operas, theatre and film music, oratorios and chamber music.

Segovia continued to take an interest in Haug and his work; for example he invited Haug to teach composition at a summer Music Academy at Santiago de Compostella in 1961. Haug’s Concertino was neither published nor publicly performed prior to his death in 1967. It was finally published in 1970 – and was premiered by Alexandre Lagoya in Lausanne.

Having pulled together at least an outline of Haug’s career, it would be nice to be able to say that this disc is likely to lead to a rediscovery of his work. Unfortunately, that can’t be said to be likely, at least on this evidence. The Concertino is undoubtedly well made and technically assured, not least in terms of the balance between the soloist and the chamber orchestra (Il piccola orchestra acquits itself well). Haug’s materials, however, are a somewhat pallid version of ‘Mediterranean music’ (to borrow Darius Milhaud’s useful phrase) by a composer who sounds more ‘Germanic’ by instinct.

Haug’s Wind Quintet is, like the Concertino, technically sophisticated; the interplay of voices is sensitively handled, and there is some pleasantly attractive contrapuntal writing. But, rather like the Concertino, it seems to lack any distinctive vitality of its own. There may, of course, be more remarkable works awaiting discovery in Haug’s apparently considerable body of work. He was obviously a man of true musicianship.

The Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet (the quartet being made up of members of ‘Il piccolo orchestra’) by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was, for me, a greater source of pleasure and stimulus. The light and colours of the Mediterranean came more naturally to Castelnuovo-Tedesco and, as so often when he writes for the guitar, his music seems to carry thoughts of his Sephardic ancestors who were exiled from Spain in 1492.

As was the case with Haug (and more than a few other composers), it was Segovia who stimulated Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s interest in the guitar. Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Segovia first met at a Festival organized by the International Society of Contemporary Music, held in Venice in 1932. Segovia encouraged the composer to write for the guitar and, with characteristic facility, Castelnuovo-Tedesco did so almost immediately, producing his Variazioni attraverso I secolo, Opus 71 in the same year (this set of variations was dedicated to Segovia). Castelnuovo-Tedesco went on to write over 70 works for guitar, alone or with other instruments; many of these were also dedicated to Segovia, such as his Sonata (Omaggio a Boccherini) (1934), the Capriccio Diabolico (Omaggio a Paganini) (1935), the Concerto in D (1939), the Sérenade pour guitare et Orchestre de chambre (1943) the Suite pour Guitare seule (1946), the Rondò pour Guitare seule (1946) and the Concerto Sereno in C (1953). Plus, of course, this Quintet, which Segovia premiered, with the Paganini Quartet in April 1951 (in Los Angeles).

Unlike the works by Haug, with which it shares this disc (though the CD booklet doesn’t seem anywhere to say so, I feel sure that both works receive their world premiere recordings here), Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Quintet – composed, coincidentally, in the same year as Haug’s Concertino – has had a good number of recordings. Amongst the recordings I am familiar with, I find outstanding that by Sharon Isbin and the Pacifica Quartet, on her album Souvenirs of Spain and Italy (Cedille) and, inevitably, the 1955 recording by Segovia with members of the Quintetto Chigiano, which has been reissued more than once on CD. There are also eminently acceptable recordings by guitarists such as Giulio Tampalini, with the Haydn Orchestra Quartet (Concerto) and Eliot Fisk, with The Shanghai String Quartet (Nimbus). This performance by the accomplished Swiss guitarist Marisa Minder belongs in the ‘entirely acceptable’ category rather than that of the ‘outstanding’. Minder captures the proper idiom for the music and copes well with the technical issues raised by Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music, but she and her ‘ad hoc’ quartet don’t quite find the sort of poetry that Isbin and the Pacifica Quartet discover in the ‘andante mesto’ second movement; nor does the last movement, marked ‘Allegro con fuoco’ have the fire of the very best performances. Still, this is Minder’s debut CD and she is clearly a musician of considerable promise. The booklet biography reports that “since she was a teenager, [she] has been working on lesser known works and composers of the classical-guitar literature”. I view such curiosity as a commendable virtue, and I hope that she will get the chance to present some of her ‘discoveries’ on future discs.

So, while there’s nothing remarkable about this disc, I have been pleased to be introduced to the music of Hans Haug, even if I wasn’t overwhelmed by the two works of his played here, and the performance of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Quintet for Guitar and String Quintet stands up quite well against some high-powered competition. The recorded sound is good throughout.

Glyn Pursglove

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