Pavel HAAS (1899-1944)
Seven Songs in Folk Style, Op.18 (1940) [14:58]
Fata Morgana, Op.6 (1923) [30:49]
Chinese Songs, Op.4 (1921) [7:49]
Four Songs on Chinese Poetry (1944) [15:27]
Anita Watson (soprano): Anna Starushkevych (mezzo soprano): Nicky Spence (tenor): James Platt (bass)
Lada Valešová (piano, artistic director)
rec. December 2015, Milton Court, London and August 2016, Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon
Texts and English translations included RESONUS RES10183 [69:29]
It’s good to see commitment to Pavel Haas’ legacy from the rather unlikely environs of a British label and to see the name of, say, tenor Nicky Spence amongst the singers. But look a little closer and you’ll also see the name of the pianist and artistic director the project, Czech-born, London-resident Lada Valešová, whom I have praised here before for her idiomatic performances of her native country’s music (see review) where she played, inter alias, Haas’s Suite, Op.13 and the Allegro Moderato of 1938. She also provided the vital language coaching in this new disc.
None of these song cycles are so commonplace on disc that one can easily pass by this latest, focused disc. The Seven Songs in Folk Style are delightful miniature settings irradiated by the deft, often dappled piano writing, well brought out by Valešová. Both Anita Watson and the pianist prefer quite an expansive view of the songs, especially the slower ones. The baritone Petr Matuszek sang them with pianist Aleš Kaňka on Supraphon SU 3334-2 231 and they are altogether bluffer than the Resonus duo; more rustic, faster by far in almost all settings, and digging out the burlesque piano writing of the last setting with graphic wit. Even though he only sings two of the cycle Karel Průša’s old Bonton recording on a mixed recital disc adheres to the Czech tempo norms in this cycle. The Resonus team prefer a more melancholic, expansive view and are less tersely unsettled as a result.
Haas sets two lots of Chinese songs. His 1944 Four Songs on Chinese Poetry is the one that has been investigated more often than the much earlier Op.4 set of three songs. The wartime settings are again slower than the Czech pairing on Supraphon. Possibly this is a question of the naturalness of Matuszek’s singing of his native texts, but it’s also a question of conception. The Resonus team is more clement, preferring a lateral rather than a vertical response. It’s noticeable that the Czech team’s accents and articulation are that much more incisive, the word painting that much more involving – though neither James Platt nor Valešová is undramatic in any way. The difference in tempo in the third of the songs tells its own story: 6:16 for Resonance and 4:55 for Supraphon. To further contextualize this, baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber are similarly much faster in their recording on a marvellous DG disc [477 6546] that functions as a homage to composers incarcerated in Terezín.
The Op.4 set was composed in 1921 and is, as yet, not quite characteristic of his more natural settings of over two decades later, but does reveal subtlety in interpretation.
The big news is that we have here a world premičre recording in the shape of Fata Morgana, Op.6, a two-part, half-hour setting of Tagore composed in 1923. It’s written for voice, here Nicky Spence, string quartet and piano – which is to say the same combination as Vaughan Williams’ earlier On Wenlock Edge. This is a fascinating if somewhat over-extended work, saturated in eroticism – though not the erotic exoticism of Szymanowski, more the eroticism of a conflation between Debussian sensuous languor and Janáčekian urgency. The latter is hardly surprising, obviously, as Haas was one of Janáček’s best-known pupils and the little moments of quartet fluttering inevitably remind one of the Moravian master. This is a work that, despite its relative length, has a lot going for it – nocturnal wind motifs, the way each voice – the literal voice of the singer, as well as the piano and quartet - embody characteristics derived by Haas from Tagore’s hothouse poetry. Then there is tension through repetition, evanescent melancholy and echoes of The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Spence sings highly effectively and the Navarra Quartet really makes the most of its numerous opportunities for sensuality.
Questions of idiomatic textual declamation and tempo decisions aside this is a well selected disc, bringing to the table two of Haas’ most attractive cycles and that premičre recording. It sits splendidly in the current discography.