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Monique Haas ∙ Volume 2

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Monique Haas’s recordings enjoy a cult status. In these historically, as well as artistically, important audio documents, her connection to the best features of the French piano tradition – to whom Haas belonged, having studied under Lazare-Lévy – can be surveyed, along with the charisma of an unusual personality, whose performances were once described by the critic Antoine Goléa with “France cannot boast a greater pianist.” She never recorded the Schumann, Mozart and Bach commercially, so this is an important addition to her CD discography. The four works on this disc preserve the special artistry of Monique Haas at the peak of her international career and make their first appearance on CD.

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MONIQUE HAAS plays Schumann, Mozart, Debussy and Bach

1-8. Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op.16 [29:57]
I. Äußerst bewegt [02:37]
II. Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch [08:32]
III. Sehr aufgeregt [03:47]
VI. Sehr langsam [03:27]
V. Sehr lebhaft [03:07]
VI. Sehr langsam [03:44]
VII. Sehr rasch [02:05]
VIII. Schnell und spielend [02:40]
Recorded ∙ 20 November 1948 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

9-11. Mozart: Piano Sonata No.8 in A minor, KV.310 [14:52]
I. Allegro maestoso [05:34]
II. Andante cantabile con expressione [06:06]
III. Presto [03:12]
Recorded ∙ 13 June 1951 ∙ Stuttgart ∙ Altes Funkhaus ∙ Studio VI ∙ Süddeutscher Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

12-14. Debussy: Pour le piano, L.95 [13:01]
I. Prélude [04:05]
II. Sarabande [05:09]
III. Toccata [03:46]
Recorded ∙ 01 July 1951 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

15-21. Bach: Partita No.2 in C minor, BWV.826 [20:20]
I. Sinfonia [04:49]
II. Allemande [04:04]
III. Courante [02:30]
IV. Sarabande [03:31]
V. Rondeau [01:41]
VI. Capriccio [03:45]
Recorded ∙ 19 October 1951 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

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Monique Haas’s recordings enjoy a cult status. In these historically, as well as artistically, important audio documents, her connection to the best features of the French piano tradition – to whom Haas belonged, having studied under Lazare-Lévy – can be surveyed, along with the charisma of an unusual personality, whose performances were once described by the critic Antoine Goléa with “France cannot boast a greater pianist.” The Schumann, Mozart and Bach is new to Monique Haas’s discography. The four works on this disc preserve the special artistry of Monique Haas at the peak of her international career.

Monique Haas (1909-1987) was one of the most brilliant and cultivated pianists of her generation, best remembered today for her fine recordings of Debussy and Ravel. But her repertoire was much wider than that, embracing Bach, Mozart and Schumann particularly, and with a pronounced emphasis on the music of her contemporaries—especially Stravinsky, Hindemith, Messiaen and her husband, the Rumanian composer Marcel Mihalovici. Born in Paris, she made rapid progress with her early teachers and in 1927 graduated with a first prize from the Paris Conservatoire. Her main professor there, the renowned Lazare-Lévy, advocated a deep-keyed technique in which the weight of the hand and arm participated with the fingers—in contrast to the more purely digital technique taught by some other French teachers. He also placed great emphasis on sound quality and the mastery of different styles. In her first recitals, which featured major works by Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt and Ravel, critics praised her variety of touch, sense of color, rhythmic acuity and deep musicianship. Her tastes expanded greatly during the mid-1930s, when she was influenced by such composer-friends as André Jolivet, Alexander Tcherepnin, Darius Milhaud and Bohuslav Martinu. Around this time she also studied privately with Rudolf Serkin, Robert Casadesus and Georges Enesco. Her career was interrupted by the war, when she lived in exile in Cannes, but she played the premiere of Arthur Honegger’s two-piano Partita in Paris in March 1941 with her friend Ina Marika and Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain in the same month with Eugène Bigot and the Lamoureux Orchestra. After a concert in Marseilles in November 1944, on which she played Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Hindemith’s Third Sonata and Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, the critic Antoine Goléa wrote “France cannot boast a greater pianist.”

After the war she played acclaimed recitals throughout Europe, Asia, the Soviet Union, Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and appeared with such conductors as Charles Munch, Paul Paray, Manuel Rosenthal, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Ferenc Fricsay, Eugen Jochum and Kurt Masur. In 1952 she played Stravinsky’s Capriccio in Paris, with the composer conducting; and three years later in Cologne she was the soloist in Hindemith’s Concert-Music for Piano, Brass and Two Harps, Op. 49, also conducted by the composer. Her extensive discography includes works by Mozart, Haydn, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, Ravel, Roussel, Bartók, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Mihalovici (all reissued in a boxed set of eight CDs by Deutsche Grammophon); Chopin’s 24 Etudes and the complete piano works of Debussy and Ravel (Erato); music by Tcherepnin (Aulos); and the Leipzig recital in 1956 (Meloclassic).

Monique Haas was the first French pianist I heard in recital, when I was a student at the University of Michigan in 1967. She made a deep impression on me, musically and visually. Tall, blond and elegant, she displayed a magnetic personality in a program full of color and virtuosity: Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, six Chopin études, Webern’s Variations, pieces by Debussy, Messiaen and Mihalovici, and Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. I decided then and there that I wanted to study with her.

The chance didn’t present itself until January 1979, shortly after I heard her play a remarkable all-Debussy recital at the Salle Gaveau in Paris. I made the first of many trips up the broad, winding wooden staircase to the top floor of 15 rue du Dragon, a dignified old building in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. She and her husband welcomed me enthusiastically, and during the next days I worked with her on my upcoming recital of Haydn, Schumann, Debussy and Ravel—omitting the American pieces. In all of these works she stressed the need for more variety of touch and dynamics. Comments written into my scores include “more intensity,” “with a floating sound,” “more expressive,” “less rubato,” “with élan,” “clearer voicing,” “less pedal,” “more tenue,” “stabilize the rhythm,” “mark off the cadences before going on.” There was no mention of specific technical matters, except for some alternate fingering possibilities in Debussy’s Etude pour les tierces. Her advice was like that of a wise doctor who prescribes a gentle cure rather than immediate surgery. I was especially impressed with her insights into Schumann’s six Intermezzi, Op. 4—a work she had never played or taught before. She only asked me to pay after several lessons, when she telephoned her friend Pierre Bernac “to find out how much to charge Americans,” as she said with a charming twinkle in her eyes.

During the next two years we exchanged several letters about our activities, her suggestions for renting a recital hall in Paris, and my wish to interview her for my book, French Pianism. That interview took place in July 1981, when she gave very valuable insights into the teaching of Lazare-Lévy, with whom she maintained a lifelong friendship. In July 1984, when I was next in Paris, I telephoned with the hope of playing once again for her. Monsieur Mihalovici answered and told me of the terrible fire in their home, which had caused her to be hospitalized for months with third-degree burns. He invited me to come visit him, and we talked positively about the future and the possibility of his composing a piece for me. Before leaving, I wrote a short note for him to give her in the hospital. Sadly, he died the next year, and she followed on 9 June 1987.

Of the rare radio recordings heard on this disc, I especially treasure her quite personal account of Schumann’s Kreisleriana, a work that she played fairly often but never recorded commercially. Throughout, the rhythms are taut, the melodies are sung warmly and expansively, and the contrasts of tempo and dynamics sound completely natural. An elfin lightness characterizes the outer sections of Nos. 5 and 8, and she is not afraid to push tempos to the limits that Schumann demands in the “noch schneller” sections of Nos. 3 and 7. The beautiful but episodic No. 2 benefits from her judicious pacing, and a strong emotional commitment is felt in the slow Nos. 4 and 6.

Haas played Debussy’s Pour le piano often, and there exist several commercial and radio performances. This one from 1951 is full of color and immediacy in the first two movements and a perfect combination of speed and lightness in the Toccata. As in most of her recordings, there is no sense of striving for effect or of stitching together well-rehearsed episodes. After Debussy and Ravel, Mozart seems to have been one of Haas’s preferred composers. Her recordings include three of the concertos, and with the German pianist Heinz Schröter she recorded the sonatas for piano four-hands and two pianos. The great A Minor Sonata, often featured on her recitals, here receives a distinctive performance that can rank with the famous studio recording by her friend Dinu Lipatti. The outer movements are impassioned, with finely contrasted dynamics and touches, and the Andante builds from a serene opening to a particularly dramatic middle section.

Like the Schumann and Mozart, Bach’s C Minor Partita is new to Haas’s discography. Bach was always central to her repertoire, especially in her earlier years when she recorded the “Italian Concerto” and performed the D Minor Concerto, several of the suites, and Busoni’s transcription of the D Minor Chaconne. Throughout the Partita, she plays in a disarmingly direct manner, with subtle variations of touch, natural phrasing, and strong dance character. The four works on this disc preserve the special artistry of Monique Haas at the peak of her international career.

Notes by Charles Timbrell, © 2014

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Article number: MC 1024
UPC barcode: 791154054000
Recording dates: 1948-1951
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 78:13

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Charles Timbrell
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Frédéric Gaussin Collection
With special thanks to Charles Timbrell & Frédéric Gaussin
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic