Before I begin writing this review I would like to pose a question to the folks at DG/Universal. Among the great French classical musicians of the 20th Century, is Monique Haas more fondly remembered in the United States than Pierre Fournier? Clearly the answer must be yes, because you have decided to reissue your new Monique Haas Original Masters box set domestically while the recent Pierre Fournier is only available as a pricey import. UNI, you once again leave me scratching my head at your marketing decisions, but then I never was very good at judging popularity contests.
Ultimately, the music is all that matters, and there are some fine examples on this 8CD set, "Monique Haas: The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon." Haas was best known for her interpretations of French music, and in particular for reacquainting German audiences with Debussy and Ravel after WWII. Among the French fare included here are two remarkably differing accounts of the Ravel Piano Concerto. The first is a delightfully jazzy mono rendition with Schmidt-Isserstedt from 1948, and the second the famous 1965 stereo recording with Paul Paray (recently reissued as a single title in the DG "Originals" series and reviewed by yours truly), with whom she also produced the Concerto for Left Hand. But as good as the Ravel is, it is the Debussy that steals the show here, and if her award-winning performances of the Preludes and Etudes weren't enough, DG archivists have unearthed four previously unreleased Debussy test recordings from 1949.
While these aforementioned recordings are the cornerstones of this set, they are far from the only compelling material. CDs 1 & 2 are dedicated to Mozart and Haydn, including the 14th and 23rd Piano Concertos with Ferdinand Leitner conducting, and various Sonatas. A touch of the Romantic crops up on disc 3 with the Schumann PC (Jochum/Berlin, 1951), Fantasiestucke, and a couple of Chopin Etudes. These recordings are definitely not Haas' finest moments, but they are interesting if not remarkable. Something that Haas does have a firm grasp of is 20th Century music and she illustrates that on ecstatic readings of the Stravinsky Capriccio and Bartok 3rd, both in mono with Fricsay and the Berlin RIAS, and Hindemith's "Konzertmusik" with the composer conducting. (Unfortunately, the latter performance has already been made available in the Hindemith "Original Masters" set, causing annoying, but I suppose necessary duplication as "Complete" has to be complete.) This set fittingly concludes with an eighth disc of music for Violin and Piano, performed with violinist Max Rostal, and including a composition by her husband Marcel Mihalovici -- Ricercari Op. 46, Variations libres pour piano.
In all, the Monique Haas "Original Masters" set is a most welcome addition to a great series of box sets. I only wish that Universal would make all their sets as universally available as this one.