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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 1 September 1997

Songs by Haas, Krása and Schulhoff
Petr Matuszek, baritone
Supraphon: SU 3334­2231 (SRI)

Entartete Musik - music written by communists, leftists, and Jews banned by the Nazis - is the latest growth industry in classical recording, to judge by the number of new releases. The disc under review presents a brief sampling of songs by three Czech-born Jewish composers who perished in Nazi concentration camps. In the case of Pavel Haas and Hans Krása, the disc includes works written both before and during their imprisonment, while from Schulhoff, who was a well-established composer before his imprisonment, we get a song cycle dating from the height of his career .

This is a disc of contemporary (read: atonal) music by three fairly minor composers who shared a tragic fate. The works by Haas offer some beautiful moments comparable to the best of Wolf and Berg. They also carry us from Haas's life to his death. The Chosen One, op. 8, dates from 1927 when he was 28 years old in Brno, Czechoslovakia. Seven Songs in the Folk Tone, op. 18, dates from just before his transport to the Terezín concentration camp. Four Songs on Chinese Poetry was written and premiered in Terezín three months before the composer was gassed. The carefree idiom of the early compositions contrasts sharply with the darkness and profundity of the prison music.

Krása and Schulhoff are not well represented on this disc. We get only 7.5 minutes of Krása and one ten-minute cycle by Schulhoff. Considering the disc is only 55 minutes long, it is a pity we didn't get more Schulhoff, who experimented in many post-World War I musical idioms. The 34-year old Czech baritone Petr Matuszek is apparently a specialist in twentieth-century vocal performance. This is basically a recital disc showcasing Matuszek's talent. His voice is well-suited to the wide range of styles in this repertoire, from deadpan cabaret to serious dramatic lieder. He is a good interpreter but not a world-class voice, and there is straining in some of the high notes. Piano and chamber ensemble accompaniment is good. This is essentially a disc that will interest devoted fans of an obscure corner of the modern repertoire that is slowly coming to light for political as much as aesthetic reasons. Have a dictionary handy if you don't speak Czech: biographies are in English, German, and Czech but song texts are in Czech only. ­Alki Sarantinos

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