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Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947) Piano Quintet (1922)
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937) Piano Quintet (1918)
Stephen Coombs (piano)
Chilingirian Quartet
rec Henry Wood Hall, London, 1-3 Dec 2000
HYPERION CDA67258 [58.56]

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French classical music is so much greater in range than Debussy and Ravel. Delightfully, more and more of it is now accessible to even the moderately persistent collector. Names such as Fumet, Schmitt, Max d'Ollonne, Canteloube, Bonnal, Witkowski and Ropartz are beginning to have some familiarity to the listening public or at least to those who are prepared to push the boat out into unfamiliar seas.

Hahn's 27 (or so) minute Quintet heaves and sways with a quick romantic melos contrasted with the tenderest rocking lullaby of an Andante. This oasis is clouded with elusive regret and a sense of bereavement which would assuredly have spoken to audiences at the time. Wounds and loss would not have been much softened four years after the Great War. Hahn perfectly judges the emotional symmetry in opening the Allegretto grazioso finale with an easy joyful tune. This glides with Mozartian grace in an effect that also reminded me of the instrumental writing in Gurney's song cycle Ludlow and Teme.

The Vierne was written under the shadow of so much loss that one wonders how Vierne could have supported such sorrow. The Quintet's Poco lento moderato and Maestoso are by no means pretty; indeed they strikes me as sinister, angry and wounded. The resolute attack of the players recalls that other masterwork of the same decade - Arnold Bax's even more extended Piano Quintet (1915) - available on Chandos and not to be missed. Severity, sincerity and emotion meet in the pages of the Larghetto - so many treasurable moments.

The Hyperion Vierne Piano Quintet has competition from PIERRE VERANY PV700011 coupled with the same composer's String Quartet. PV's Quatuor Athenaeum Enesco take almost two minutes longer in the Larghetto sontenuto. Hyperion's transparency and emphasis of sound is superior. There is also a more finely controlled approach in the hands of the Chilingirian and Coombs.

I cannot speak too highly of Francis Pott's essays. I have seen several of these from Hyperion and they are consistently in step with Hyperion's house standard of encyclopaedic detail, personality, humour and pathos.

Two deeply moving works from the French Musical Renaissance. Their roots grip the loss, sinister and tender of the Great War. Loving interpretations with sound and documentation the equal of the performances.

Rob Barnett

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