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Georg Friedrich Haas: Einklang Freier Wesen; '...'; Nacht-Schatten; 1 Streichquartett.   Georg Schulz - accordion; Dmitrios Polisolidis - viola; Klangforum Wien, conducted by Sylvain Cambreling. Edition Zeit-ton ORF 194

This disc can be purchased on-line from  Österreichischer Rundfunk ORF


As we contemplate the new millennium, it is unlikely that Viennese composers are going to create the same impact as they did at the start of the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet during the past decade, there has been a resurgence of activity amongst younger Austrian composers, based mainly in Vienna, which contrasts strikingly with the populist output of some of their older colleagues who were briefly dubbed 'the Third Viennese School'.

A distinctive aesthetic has begun to emerge, which is 'modernist' in essence, but sufficiently flexible to allow several composers to express their creative originality. Among them are Karlheinz Essl, Clemens Gadenstaetter, Olga Neuwirth, Christian Offenbauer and Gerhard Winkler, together with two slightly older figures.

The Swiss-born Beat Furrer can be regarded as the catalyst of these developments insofar as, besides composing many significant scores, he founded Klangforum Wien in 1985. The ensemble has since become the principal outlet for these composers, while also developing an ever-expanding repertoire of new, and not-so-new music; and it is surprising they have not visited Britain since their success at the 1994 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Furrer remains at the forefront of contemporary Austrian music as composer and director of Klangforum, but the compositions of Georg Friedrich Haas have recently received considerable recognition, and this is the second disc devoted to his work, following the recording of his chamber opera, Nacht, released last year.

Georg Friedrich Haas was born in 1953. He studied piano and composition in Graz, his principal teacher for the latter being Goesta Neuwirth. Later, he undertook post-graduate composition studies with Friedrich Cerha, attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses on several occasions, and also participated in a course at IRCAM. He was one of the composers Klangforum introduced to Huddersfield, and last November, Ensemble Reservoir included Einklang Freier Wesen at the end of a programme devoted to composers of a radical persuasion.

Haas' early output provided only a glimpse of his potential, but then came the revised version of Sextett, completed for Ensemble Recherche, and this prompted a re-evaluation of his earlier scores.

The four items on the present disc all date from the past decade. Nacht-Schatten, for chamber orchestra, written in 1991, is the earliest piece, and to some extent, it represents the starting-point for the other items. On the one hand, its essentially static character contains a hint of minimalism, recalling that Haas wrote a brief homage to Steve Reich in the early 1980s. On the other, the ensemble is typical of Ligeti, to whom Haas also dedicated a Homage, written soon after its predecessor. Equally, the episodes involving a more kaleidoscopic surface, generated mainly by the woodwind, reflect Haas' admiration for the way Ligeti has responded to the limitations of minimalism, and he has pursued a similar approach within his own terms.

Thus, Nacht-Schatten offers an appropriate starting-point when considering Haas' recent development, while Einklang Freier Wesen, for ten instruments, written three years later, can be regarded as its logical successor. The smaller group ensures a lighter texture, but Haas still tends to favour the lower registers. Ultimately, the work is still primarily static, despite a good deal of percussive activity, which is not restricted to the percussion instruments. Yet the main interest stems from the suggestion of micro-intervals, particularly towards the end of the work. Haas had been attracted to the microtonal music of Alois Haba at an early stage of his career, subsequently extending his enthusiasm to the music of Ivan Wyschnegradsky and Giacinto Scelsi. Hence, in the last five years, he has significantly developed the microtonal aspect of Einklang Freier Wesen, not least in his first String Quartet. However, the quartet also draws on the rather different style which Haas began to cultivate in '...', for accordion, viola and chamber orchestra, completed at the same time as Einklang Freier Wesen.

'...' is equally important as Haas' first concertante score. As such, it prefigures the recent Violin Concerto - which retains some of the characteristics of Nacht-Schatten and Einklang Freier Wesen - as well as Fremde Welten, for piano and 20 strings, where the ethereal tendencies of '...' are exploited in conjunction with the microtonality of the Quartet.

The First String Quartet is the most ambitious, and the most demanding work on the disc. It was completed in 1997, shortly after the chamber opera, Nacht, and its continuing influence can be discerned in at least three subsequent works. It extends

Haas' initial preoccupation with minimalism into a new domain. This is where the example of the earlier microtonalists is most pronounced, but perhaps the compositions of Lamonte Young should also be cited. The Quartet's contemplative aspect tends to be uppermost for much of its duration, but in the later stages, there is a passage whose expressive intensity is sufficient to be regarded as dramatic, which leads to an episode where the four instruments combine to generate a surreal allusion to bell-ringing, before fading into silence. There is a roughly equivalent passage towards the close of the Violin Concerto, of 1998, but the Quartet's influence is more apparent in Fremde Welten - 1998 - not only on the writing for the strings, with its emphasis on microintervals, but also on the contemplative and minimalist character of the soloist's material. Minimalist tendencies recur in other recent compositions, notably Monodie, for ensemble, but they are invariably combined with other features.

In short, familiarity with the works on this disc should guarantee a fuller appreciation of Haas' subsequent achievements, yet the accompanying leaflet does not include an English text. Presumably, the record producers did not envisage sales beyond Central Europe, even though Haas' compositions deserve wider circulation. However, it may be worth contacting Universal Edition in London, or in Vienna, or the Austrian Music Information Centre, Vienna. Austrian Radio should be encouraged to distribute the disc more widely.

1 I am grateful to Elke Hockings of Universal Edition not only for the disc, but also for several cassettes of Haas' more recent output.


John Warnaby


John Warnaby

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