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Reynaldo Hahn - Mélodies et airs d’opéra
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Le premier jour de mai, Chanson de mai
Maid of Athens

Biondina bella
Chanson de printemps
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

Les Cigales
L’Ile heureuse – two recordings
Toutes les fleurs
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Un aura amorosa
Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU (1712-1778)

Le Devin du village

L’amour selon sa fantasie – two recordings
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)

La Boulangère a des écus
Les charbonniers, les fariniers
Un homme, d’un vrai mérite
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Les Pêcheurs des Perles

O Nadir, tender ami
De mon amie fleur endormie
Chanson d’avril
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)

Venezia – Che peca
Venezia – La Barcheta
Le cimetière de campagne
La paix
Offrande – two recordings
O mon bel inconnu; Qu’est-ce qu’il faut pour être heureux
Etudes Latines – Phyllis, Tyndaris and Lydé
Les étoiles
La délaissée
L’heure exquise
Si mes vers avient des ailes
Le printemps
Le plus beau present
Chansons Grises – Paysage triste
Le Carmelite – Sommes-nous pas trop heureux
Sur l’eau
La paix
Je me metz en votre mercy
Le Temps d’aimer – Le chien fidèle and Lettre d’amour
Musette du XVIIème siècle

La Tour Saint-Jacques

Maitre Wolfram

Les larmes
Jean Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)

Amadis de Gaule

Bois épais
Les instruments de L’Orchestre; Analysis presented by Hahn
Reynaldo Hahn (tenor and piano, self accompanying)
With Arthur Endrèze (accompanied by Hahn), Ninon Vallin and Guy Ferrant
Henri Merckel and Georges Bouillon (violins) and M. Frecheville (cello)
Recorded 1909-37
MALIBRAN MR 565 [2 CDs 66.38 + 70.50]

This is the latest in Malibran’s increasingly useful catalogue of discs devoted to French vocalism. The dominating feature is Hahn’s voice, self-accompanied of course in the manner of George Henschel, and one that has occasioned more than a fair share of critical bewilderment over the years. The register is sometimes uncertain – is it a baritone or a low tenor? – and its actual usage has generated a range of responses, from admiration to frigid contempt via speculative amusement. Hahn, of course, was not a professional singer; he did appear at suitably elegant Parisian soirées but his recording career as a singer is quite out of proportion to any public career in the role though clearly not out of proportion to his contemporary musical celebrity. His first recordings date from 1909 and Hahn returned to the studios two years later for a further session. After the end of the First World War, during which he served in the French Army, he was back for more recordings and there are later examples, including those provisionally dated to May 1928, as well as the 1930 and 1937 recordings.

It’s most instructive to listen to Hahn’s performance of his own La barcheta, for example, from Venezia, the cycle in the Venetian dialect and a setting of a poem by Pietro Buratti. Whatever the constraints on timing in 1909 this is still a performance of a wholly different interpretative stance from that of, say, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Graham Johnson in their exquisitely eroticised recording on Hyperion. They make explicit the rocking and languorous sensuality of the setting, in lapping waves of desire. Hahn on the other hand is utterly robust; he’s jaunty, not sexy, with the canal-lapping rhythms choppy and animated, the slither of a piano postlude at the end strong and decisive; no sensual crooning for Hahn, this is a hummed song recollected in strength not an invitation to love. Which is no more I suppose than saying that the authorial voice, in musical terms, is predominantly one that eschews emotive highlights. As with most composer-performers Hahn is straightforward and decisive. The famous recording from Così fan tutte demonstrates perfectly the problem of Hahn’s range; he stands on some curious cusp between voice types even though as Gounod’s Maid of Athens shows he had a non-existent top. Where Hahn really scores is in his idiomatic understanding of parlando – listen to an exceptional example in Bizet’s Chanson d’avril; there’s no real voice, as such, but the conversational ease is revelatory, the style superb.

From the same session comes one of his most famous sides, Offenbach’s Les charbonniers et fariniers and Un homme d’un vrai mérite (from La Boulangère a des écus). The charm is simply ineffable – lightness, perfect articulation of vowels, nostalgic reflection, all held securely in place with the briskest and most scintillating of wit. Accompanying the tenor Guy Ferrant we can hear how Hahn passed on effortless command of the Recitativo style of song making, of which Chien fidèle is the most notable example; how wonderfully he reflects the antique delicacy of Charles d’Orléans’ poetry. As a counterblast try the almost aphoristic reticence of the piano part in Paysage triste, a wholly superior Verlaine setting. We have the added bonus of the adorable Ninon Vallin in a Hahn selection made from 1928 to 1930; highlights are the two Etudes Latines from 1930 and her famous Si mes vers avaient des ailes – all a delight. We can also hear his speaking voice in Les instruments de L’Orchestre of the type familiar to listeners down the ages, in which he introduces the instruments (the violinists, for any lovers of French string playing, are the superb duo of Henri Merckel and Georges Bouillon).

There are a few more delights on the way – his singing in English in the Gounod Byron setting for example or the charm of his Le Devin du village and the irresistible élan of his operetta singing – and the tender intimacy he can generate is best exemplified by the Maitre Wolfram extract. Against that there is the terrible unsteadiness of the 1919 recording of his own Offrande and the even more lugubrious recording of it a decade earlier. The transfers by the way are in generally decent condition and not over-filtered. But of course we shouldn’t judge him against professional singers – but strictly on his own terms, as a sort of inspired salon one-off, and yet still one of the most attractive exponents of one current in Parisian music making in the early part of the twentieth century.

Jonathan Woolf

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