> MASSENET, HAHN Piano concertos [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Piano Concerto in E flat (1903) - Massenet
Andante moderato - Allegro non troppo
Airs slovaques: Allegro
Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)

Piano Concerto in E (1931)
Improvisation : modéré très librement
Danse: Vif
Reverie, Toccata et Finale:
Lent - Gai, fortement rythme (pas trop vite) - Allegro
Stephen Coombs (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Jean-Yves Ossonce
Recorded on 15/16 June 1996
The Romantic Piano Concerto: Volume 15
HYPERION CDA66897 [59.45]


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Like so much of Massenetís music, this is all tunefully appealing music. More renowned for his operas than anything else, apart from the ballet music in such operas as Le Cid, one is rarely given a chance to hear Massenet in a purely orchestral medium; normally such a body of players would be consigned to the role of accompanying the human voice from a pit in an opera house. Despite the best efforts of all involved, and Stephen Coombs is a fine player, the music is dangerously dull, only in the last movement is there any natural energy and sense of propulsion in the rhythms, tempo and style. Even so it is curious why Massenet should have chosen Slovakian themes for the dance tunes, rather than those from colonial Africa, which Saint-Saëns would have done. Before that it tends to coast along in another Saint-Saëns sort of way, indeed the pretty tinkling music assigned to the fishes in that composerís Carnival of the Animals springs, or should one say swims in, to mind in the first two movements of Massenetís concerto. Strange really as the composer was already sixty when he finally wrote it, but it sounds as if he was still making exploratory forays into developing the musical ideas for the work which do in fact stem from his youth. Perhaps it was being in the relatively unfamiliar waters of the concert hall rather than the opera house which explains this sense of unease. Liszt was impressed by Massenetís piano playing and encouraged him, even to the extent of finding a wife for him by passing on a beautiful pupil for him to teach and then marry.

Massenet in turn taught Reynaldo Hahn composition from 1887. Hahnís concerto is much better than his masterís, more interesting, inventive and ear-catching. Ravel was a contemporary and it sounds like it in places (occasional solo moments for percussion, harp, cor anglais, trumpet and so on), though for 1931 itís a conservative piece of music in the best sense of the word, moments of Chopin, Liszt and of course the inevitable Rachmaninov. Like his teacher before him, Hahn produced his single piano concerto towards the end of his life. It may well be that he wrote it precisely as a throwback to earlier days when music was ostensibly more elegant and charming. Certainly this is a work worthy of revival to stand with Ravelís G major concerto; the orchestration is masterful, the melodic invention inspired. A splendid performance is given by all concerned, but what a pity the lively and witty (Satie perhaps?) second movement scherzo is so short. Incidentally when Hahn recorded it with Magda Tagliaferro in 1937, it had to be heavily cut, but this is a fully restored version, as intended by the composer.

Itís a disc worth its money for Hahnís fine concerto alone.

Christopher Fifield

Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series


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