Fata Morgana: Songs by Pavel Haas performed by the Navarra Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Pavel Haas
LABELS: Resonus
ALBUM TITLE: Haas
WORKS: Fata Morgana; Seven Songs in Folk Style; Four Songs on Chinese Poetry; Chinese Songs
PERFORMER: Anita Watson (soprano), Anna Starushkevych (mezzo-soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), James Platt (bass); Navarra Quartet; Lada Valešová (piano, director)
CATALOGUE NO: RES 10183

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Among several promising Czech-Jewish composers taught or inspired by Janáček, Pavel Haas (1899-1944) shone especially brightly. His brutal murder in a Nazi death-camp alongside others of his generation remains an incalculable loss to western music, which may otherwise have taken very different directions post-World War II. By 1941, when Haas was transported to Terezín, he had already produced many fine works in a highly expressive idiom combining Moravian and Bohemian folk tunes and Hebrew chant with a quirkily off-kilter, jazz-inflected polytonality. Incredibly, before dying in Auschwitz he composed the exquisite Four Songs on Chinese Poetry that form one of the four song cycles in this important and lovingly presented homage.

Pianist-musicologist Lada Valešová has gathered together a stellar group of young singers and musicians. Fata Morgana refers to the Tagore song cycle completed by Haas following studies with Janáček (1923) – and which receives an impassioned premiere recording by Nicky Spence and the Navarra Quartet alongside Valešová.

Otherwise, more conventional forces of voice and piano prevail, but with no loss of bittersweet adventurous spirit. The 1944 Four Songs are given added poignancy – if any were needed – by James Platt’s heartfelt rendition appearing alongside Chinese Songs from happier times (1921), richly sung by Anna Starushkevych. Composed as Nazi occupiers tightened their grip, the 1940 Seven Songs in Folk Style (sung by Anita Watson) feel defiant in their national pride. From joy to despair, every emotion is here in subtle colours; a legacy of great human and musical worth.

Steph Power

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.