Reynaldo Hahn had a big love-in with lyricism. In his chamber music, which is all too under-performed and indeed unknown, this pervasive quality is sovereign, even to the exclusion of real sonata combat and contrast. The result in the Violin sonata is music of such undeniably verdant beauty in its Fauréan ethos that it would take a heart of blackest stone to resist or reject it. And yet this 1926 work is so tuneful and easeful, so implicitly rejecting of post-Fauré developments — this is the Fauré of the 1890s, not the later works — that one inevitably views it in the light of its looseness of construction, and its amiability of motifs. This is not to slight a work that seeks nothing except the promotion of its own sensibility, but it does make for a somewhat watery twenty minutes in its company.
The only performance I had previously heard of the sonata was the 78 of Denise Soriano, though Christian Brière and J.P. Millow made an LP recording on Pianissime which didn’t get very much exposure, though the coupling of works by Fauré, Debussy, Kreisler and Rachmaninoff was on the money, stylistically speaking. Charles Sewart and Stephen Coombs made an excellent alliance, balancing well, and allowing the deft themes to register through limpid phrasing, light bowing and sensitive chording. The amusingly restless central scherzo balances the larger outer movements to good effect. The finale has the refined grace of a chanson, the vocalised tristesse of which is a pleasure to hear in this performance. The return to the climate of the opening movement is also intelligently calibrated.
The other big work is the Third Piano Quartet of 1946. Again, the language is late nineteenth century, which is even more noticeable in a work written exactly twenty years after the Violin Sonata. The writing is light, agreeable, charming and reaches a peak of expressive outpouring in the Andante, though this is watered down via some ineffably Gallic salon grace and charm. The finale is genuinely effusive.
The ‘fillers’ are all enjoyable once again. The Soliloque et Forlane for viola and piano has solid Baroque affiliations and a languorous-to-flighty profile. The much earlier 1906 Nocturne has a fair amount of ingratiating charm too. Hahn’s own arrangement of his most famous chanson, Si mes vers avient des ailles, is written for cello and piano.
All these performances, recorded in 2003 and first released on Hyperion CDA67391 at full price, are hugely convincing. The foursome has the lightness of touch and the quicksilver quality necessary successfully to project the more winsome elements inherent in the music. For Fauré disciples — and Hahn was himself one, stylistically, to the core — this will be an enjoyable acquisition.