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Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Œuvres pour ensembles (Works for ensembles)
Le Bal de Béatrice d’Este (1905) [14.57]
Concerto provençal (1944) [22.14]
Sérénade (1942) [10.35]
Divertissement pour une fête de nuit (1931) [22.20]
Julien Vern (flute); François Lemoine (clarinet); Frank Sibold (bassoon); Julien Desplanque (horn); Ensemble Initium,
Orchestre des Pays de Savoie/Nicolas Chalvin
rec. 2014, Conservatoire, Rueil-Malmaison; Cité des arts, Chambéry (Concerto), France
TIMPANI 1C1231 [70:29]

Reynaldo Hahn’s name is missing from several of my music reference books. A Venezuelan by birth, Parisian bred, later a naturalised Frenchman, Hahn was active during the Belle Époque centred on Paris. Brian Zeger has written that “Hahn’s music is as quintessentially French as one can find.” Yet for many decades outside France it has been solely the mélodies (songs) that have given Hahn’s music a finger-hold in the repertoire. The fiftieth anniversary of Hahn’s death in 1997 produced several welcome recordings but still principally albums of mélodies. Probably the finest recordings that have helped to establish Hahn’s reputation have been La Belle Epoque - Songs of Reynaldo Hahn sung by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham accompanied by Roger Vignoles on Sony. There's also the Piano Quintet performed by Stephen Coombs and the Chilingirian Quartet on Hyperion.

Commissioned by French flautist Georges Barrére, Hahn’s Le Bal de Béatrice d’Este is a ballet suite using typically original scoring of 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, timpani, cymbal, triangle, piano and 2 harps. Dedicated to Saint-Saëns the work was first performed in 1905 by the Salle des Agriculteurs at a concert of Société moderne d'instruments à vent. Here Hahn uses an Italian Renaissance setting at the Milan court of Princess Beatrice d’Este (1475-1497) who married Ludovico Sforza the Duke of Milan known as ‘Il Moro’. The Duke and Duchess of Milan were great patrons of the arts employing Leonardo Da Vinci at the Milanese court where the great man produced some of his finest work.

Cast in seven movements Le Bal de Béatrice d’Este is a work of ineffable charm that successfully evokes an impression of the Milanese court at the time of the Italian Renaissance especially the elegant music of the opening Entrée pour Ludovic le More and its reprise in the Finale. The second movement Lesquercade is a form of Pavane with some marvellously written wind playing especially for the flute.

Thought to have been written in 1944 the Concerto provençal is scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn and strings. It was first played at a Radiodiffusion Française broadcast in 1945 and publicly introduced in Paris the following year. Written in the style of a concerto grosso each of the three movements portrays a tree native to Provence: Sous les platanes (Under the plane trees), Sous les pins (Under the pine trees) and Sous les oliviers (Under the olive trees).

Here the four soloists are Julien Vern (flute), François Lemoine (clarinet), Frank Sibold (bassoon) and Julien Desplanque (horn) accompanied by the strings of the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie. Hahn’s stylish and beautifully shaped wind writing is top-drawer. Especially memorable is the central Sous les pins - a light and appealing Nocturne complete with a sense of mystery. It is easy to imagine the memorably captivating Concerto provençal appearing on the playlist of a commercial radio station such as Classic FM.

Remarkably the unpublished Sérénade for woodwind quartet from 1942 was unearthed in the personal collection of musicologist Philippe Blay. Scored for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon the relatively short three-movement score has a neo-classical form melded with Hahn’s distinctive style. Performed by a quartet of wind soloists from the Ensemble Initium I was struck by the opening movement marked Vif et gai in the manner of a Minuet with its stylish and convivial feel.

Another real find is the Divertissement pour une fête de nuit which is unconventionally scored for flute, saxophone, bassoon, horn, percussion, string quartet and piano, It could be described as a sister work to Le Bal de Béatrice d’Este. Thought to have been written in 1931, shortly after Ibert’s popular Divertissement and roughly contemporaneous with Pierné’s Divertissement, Hahn’s composition evidently depicts nocturnal festivities in old Vienna. In four movements with the second subdivided into three sections this was premièred at a Paris concert of the Société Philharmonique in 1931. This is mainly exuberant music full of vivid colour and varied rhythms. The performance here is given by members of the Ensemble Initium augmented by the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie. This pastiche work is full of unexpected moments. A highlight is the lengthy final movement Lumières: Valses dans les jardins. It creates a gloriously colourful evening scene that develops into a series of highly appealing waltzes.

Nicolas Chalvin directs with unerring consistency of approach and judiciously chosen dynamics and pacing. The attention to detail in this charming music is palpable with the players conveying warmth, sensitivity and flawless intonation.

The engineering team for Timpani excel in providing warm, clear and naturally balanced sound. Timpani state that both the Sérénade and Divertissement are première recordings. The booklet essay is interesting and informative and adds to the desirability of the release. Lovers of French music will relish this release presenting mainly unfamiliar repertoire that deserves to be better known.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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