Haas: Wind Quintet

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COMPOSERS: Haas
LABELS: MDG Gold 3
WORKS: Wind Quintet, Op. 10; Suite for Oboe and Piano, Op. 17; String Quartet No. 3, Op. 15
PERFORMER: Ensemble Villa Musica
CATALOGUE NO: 304 1527-2

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Two of the works on this enterprising and well-recorded disc can be directly related to the terribly precarious situation that faced the Czech-Jewish composer Pavel Haas during the Munich crisis of the late 1930s. The Third Quartet (1937-38) reflects a deepening sense of anxiety and defiance as Haas and his fellow Czechs faced the prospect of increasing Nazi aggression towards his own country.

Musically this is manifested not only in the Quartet’s highly chromatic language but also in the extremely sombre mood which colours the introduction and slow movement as well as the aggressive resolution to the fugue that concludes the Finale.

The Suite, composed in 1939, continues in a similarly troubled vein with the plaintive lament of the oboe failing to calm the angry full-blooded chords that emanate from the piano. In contrast, the 1929 Wind Quintet, strongly indebted to Haas’s teacher JanáΩek, offers a more varied sequence of moods, ranging from melancholy to unbuttoned humour, the latter most effectively featured in jazz-like glissandos of the immensely engaging third movement ‘Ballo eccentrico’. 

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The Ensemble Villa Musica perform all these works with dedication, commitment and technical brilliance, although in the Third Quartet the Pavel Haas Quartet on Supraphon perhaps have the edge in terms of exploiting  an even wider range of nuance especially in the variations of the Finale. Erik Levi