Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Le Rossignol éperdu – Poèmes pour Piano [131:18]
Billy Eidi (piano)
rec. 2014, Coeur de Ville, Vincennes, France
TIMPANI 2C2229 [73:36 + 57:42]

Reynaldo Hahn was born in Caracas on 9 August 1874 – according to his official website, though 1875 is also quite often seen. He was one of twelve children of his Venezuelan Catholic mother and German Jewish father.

His parents moved to France when he was just three, and he became a French citizen in 1909. Hahn is a figure, like the young Marcel Proust whose temporary lover and permanent friend he became, forever associated with the Paris of the belle époque. He was a child prodigy, and became eminent enough to have a ballet (Le Dieu bleu) commissioned by Diaghilev – though Stravinsky bitchily opined that this was only because Hahn the songwriter, singer, pianist, and conductor was the darling of those Paris salons whose support Diaghilev needed.

Hahn is best remembered now for his songs but there is much other music, including 17 stage works, chamber works and concertos. Roughly speaking, the larger works for stage and concert hall occupy his later years, while his earlier period was filled with songs and piano music such as this intriguing collection Le Rossignol éperdu — “The Desperate Nightingale” is the booklet’s offered translation – but see below.

The collection consists of four suites of unequal length. The first is called simply Première Suite and is much the longest, containing 30 pieces, lasting over 70 minutes and filling the first of the two CDs. The other three suites run to about 58 minutes between them, are called Orient, Carnet de Voyage, and Versailles, and contain 6, 9, and 8 pieces respectively. The individual items in each suite all have evocative titles (listed below) and are all quite brief. The longest, the third number of the first suite, exceeds 7 minutes, but that is the exception; 35 of the 53 pieces are less than 3 minutes long, and 5 of those last less than a minute. Despite the grouping into suites, these CDs offer a very large collection of very small pieces. They are reasonably varied in mood, although the prevailing tone is one of gentle lyricism and melancholy. Few of us can eat hors d’oeuvre for two hours, so they are best enjoyed in small groups, when they prove very enjoyable indeed. They should appeal to anyone with a taste for the collections of short piano pieces from Mompou, Satie or Déodat de Séverac.

The idiom is like that of Faure rather than any later or modernist figure – Hahn was a musical conservative, mistrustful even of Debussy and certainly of Les Six. Not that there are no harmonic asperities. The harmony is more pungent than perfumed, in the Orient suite redolent of foreign spice markets rather than fading bouquets. The items were written over the first decade of the twentieth century and published in 1912. There is a strong element of travelogue, of a post-Liszt années de pèlerinage, as titles such as “Nocturnal Reverie on the Bosphorus” from Orient reflect Hahn's many foreign trips. Each “poème” has an epigraph in the score (not quoted in the booklet) from poets such as Molière, Voltaire, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Flaubert and Hugo - Hahn was a man of wide and deep culture. The title of the work seems to have no established version in English - éperdu can mean, depending on which dictionary you consult, distraught, bewildered, ecstatic or passionate. The composer himself did not provide much background, and his only comment was that he had written the work with "larmes rentrées", with suppressed tears.

This was my first encounter with Billy Eidi, although the booklet points out that he has made some award-winning discs. He is described here as a French pianist of Lebanese origin, so might have a particular affinity with Hahn’s exotic background. Certainly it sounds like it, since he is a reliable, skilful, and idiomatic guide through what was for me new terrain. Each piece, whether melancholic, bucolic or rhapsodic, is well-characterised, with those pungent harmonies brought out by a strong left hand when required. The emotional scale is always precisely judged, and Eidi shows us that beneath the attractive surface subtleties abound. He understands that if Hahn is only a petit maître, the interpreter still needs to use all his mastery to bring out the best in the music. There is a warm and intimate recording that seems right for the material, and a very literate, sympathetic and helpful booklet note by Guy Sacre, whose own piano music and songs have been recorded on this valuable French label. I have not heard the 2007 world premiere recording by Earl Wild, who learned the pieces for the sessions, and which is still available on an expensive Ivory Classics release. I am delighted to have got to know this seductive music from this excellent issue, and reviewing duties done, I shall keep it close to my CD player for a while yet.

Roy Westbrook

Full Contents Listing

CD 1 - 1C1229

Première Suite
1 – Frontispice [2:20]
2 – Andromède résignée [2:06]
3 – Douloureuse rêverie dans un bois de sapins [7:16]
4 – Le Bouquet de pensées [0:58]
5 – Soleil d:automne [2:30]
6 – Gretchen [3:04]
7 – Les Deux Écharpes [1:37]
8 – Liebe! Liebe! [0:52]
9 – Éros caché dans les bois [2:49]
10 – La Fausse Indifférence [1:44]
11 – Chanson de midi [1:23]
12 – Antiochus [2:01]
13 – Nevermore [0:59]
14 – Portrait [0:37]
15 – L:Enfant au perroquet [1:42]
16 – Les Rêveries du Prince Églantine [2:29]
17 – Ivresse [1:34]
18 – L:Arôme suprême [1:28]
19 – Berceuse féroce [4:28]
20 – Passante [0:59]
21 – La Danse de l:Amour et de l:Ennui [3:09]
22 – Ouranos [3:13]
23 – Les Héliotropes du Clos-André [1:24]
24 – Effet de nuit sur la Seine [1:49]
25 – Per i piccoli canali [5:59]
26 – Mirage [1:27]
27 – La Danse de l:Amour et du Danger [2:39]
28 – Matinée parisienne [3:37]
29 – Chérubin tragique [2:17]
30 – Les Chênes enlacés [3:41]

CD 2 - 1C2229

1 – En caïque [2:52]
2 – Narghilé [2:33]
3 – Les Chiens de Galata [2:44]
4 – Rêverie nocturne sur le Bosphore [3:09]
5 – La Rose de Blida [1:31]
6 – L:Oasis [Biskra] [1:39]

Carnet de voyage
7 – L:Ange verrier [3:28]
8 – Le Jardin de Pétrarque [1:46]
9 – La Nativité [3:21]
10 – Faunesse dansante [1:34]
11 – Les Noces du duc de Joyeuse [2:52]
12 – Le Petit Mail [1:03]
13 – Les Pages d:Élisabeth [3:05]
14 – La Jeunesse et l:Été ornent de fleurs le tombeau de Pergolèse [1:39]
15 – Vieux bahuts [Musée d:Orléans] [2:54]

16 – Hommage à Martius [1:07]
17 – La Reine au jardin [1:05]
18 – Le Réveil de Flore [3:26]
19 – Le Banc songeur [1:57]
20 – La Fête de Terpsichore [3:03]
21 – Adieux au soir tombant [2:15]
22 – Hivernale [3:37]
23 – Le Pèlerinage inutile [3:58]

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