WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Kocian Quartet, etc
CATALOGUE NO: PRD 250 118
The music of Pavel Haas came to widespread attention with numerous revelatory performances and recordings of music by Czech-Jewish composers incarcerated in Terezín. The quartets on this disc all predate the Second World War. Listening to these excellent and powerfully idiomatic performances makes one wonder at the nature of minds so unreasonably prejudiced that they could ever dub this music decadent. Haas responded with evident delight to numerous contemporary stimuli: impressionism, modernism and the fierce originality of his teacher, Janácek. Expert, cultivated and original, this music is much more than a synthesis of potentially conflicting influences, it shows a distinctive voice setting forth on a path all to cruelly cut short.
This issue includes the original version, complete with percussion in the finale, of the Second Quartet. After the breadth of the opening and the pungency of the middle movements, the extra percussion, though certainly fun, is a touch intrusive (Haas dropped it after the premiere). The third quartet, composed on the brink of war, is more introspective, though still fascinating, in its use of folk melodies, synagogue chant and the Wenceslas chorale – a potent reminder of the richness and diversity of Czech culture before the Holocaust changed everything. Jan Smaczny