by | Aug 12, 2014 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Monique Haas = MOZART: Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 330; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; DEBUSSY: Images, Book I; LISZT: La Leggierezza; COUPERIN: Le Tic-Tac Choc; Les barricades mysterieuses; RAMEAU: Les Cyclopes; L’entretien des muses; Le rappel des oiseaux; RAVEL: Le Tombeau de Couperin: Forlane; CHOPIN: Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 10, No. 4 – Monique Haas, piano – MeloClassic MC 1006, 78:13 [] ****:

Recorded in Leipzig, 19 March 1956, we have a fine recital by French keyboard virtuoso Monique Hass (1909-1987), whose repute for elegance, passion, and articulation had its best statement from Francis Poulenc: “The adorable Monique Haas. . .plays ravishingly.” An artist who eschewed the dry, sec style of Marguerite Long, Haas cultivated a clean, precise but warm tone color that followed her teacher, Lazare Levy, as well as Alfred Cortot and Robert Casadesus.

The present recital indicates something of the breadth of the Haas repertory, which often favored the Baroque and modern era to the exclusion of the familiar Romantics. Her carefully polished attacks, clarion trills, and scintillating semi-staccato runs in the 1784 Mozart C Major Sonata will doubtless invoke the memory of Dinu Lipatti in this tonal world. Each musical period enjoys a distinctive arch, what Rachmaninov called “the point.” The otherwise ‘galant’ Andante cantabile becomes a richly textured meditation in the minor, deeply affecting in Mozart’s understated syntax.

The Haas approach to the so-called 1943 “War Sonata” No. 7 of Sergei Prokofiev lies within her classically chiseled contours ripened by a depth of personal expression, especially for the sense of imminent threat and danger, opposed by an irresistible will to life. A sense of the barbaric rages in her opening Allegro inquieto, with its sudden, percussive outrages of fortune.  Even in the calm section of the first movement , we receive intimations of the (ironic) influence of Schumann’s song ‘Wehmuth” from his Op. 39 that informs the second movement, Andante coloroso.  Yet, a sense of detachment reigns, modernist, in that it proceeds mechanically, ineluctably. Whether the final moment of pure bravura, the Precipitato last movement, attests to spiritual victory or to moral catastrophe, remains the Sphinx that drives this enigmatic but compelling score.

Haas, like Ravel, loved to connect the school of “Impressionism” with the French clavecin tradition. The 1905 set of Images, Livre I of Debussy correspond to the fanciful aspirations of those clavicinistes, here positing an amalgam of title, color, rhythm and sonority to produce an independent sound-world.   Liquid, of course, characterizes the chordal progressions and scalar patterns of Reflets dans l’eau. But the Haas parlando proves as moving and supple as her arpeggios. That Rameau serves as a model for Debussy is no accident: Debussy had been editing the opera Les Fetes de Polymnie by that composer. In G-sharp Minor, Debussy’s (Spanish) sarabande celebrates the older master in staid terms. The Mouvement section serves as a bravura precursor, a toccata, for Bartok and Stravinsky.

The two Couperin pieces – favorites of my own teacher Jean Casadesus – appeal to the glisteningly playful – a perpetuum mobile in sixteenths – and the enigmatic: especially the “Mysterious Barricades” in chains of suspensions and unresolved arpeggios and chords that might hint at amorous pursuits.

The two exceptions to the Haas avoidance of the Romantic impulse – the Liszt and the Chopin – grant her two potent etudes that flex her musical muscles with astonishing aplomb. The Liszt study in lithe, flexible touch and a top singing line place Haas in the same league with those other Gallic giants, de la Bruchollerie and Darre. The Chopin Etude in C-sharp Minor extends the exercise in perpetual-motion sixteenths, here passionately and tempestuously, Presto con fuoco.

The Rameau group demonstrates the philosophe-compositeur’s ideas on “method,” first, here in the form of homage to Les Cyclopes of Homer, an erupting etude to depict the forgers of the gods’ thunderbolts. Evocative and lyric, L’entretien des muses celebrates the venue of Art itself, perhaps a suggestion of Watteau’s paintings. The soft palette realized by Haas and her limber trill pays your admission price. Le rappel des oiseaux plays with the interval of a fourth, leaping for the freedom of birds’ calls and played by feathered fingers.

The Ravel Forlane appears as an encore, which Haas announces. A striking precision dominates the dance, just as Stravinsky had described all of Ravel’s music. But the elegance of line that Haas projects cannot be duplicated by mechanism alone.

—Gary Lemco


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