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Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Piano Quartet No. 3 in G major (1946) [24:14]
Piano Quintet in F sharp minor (1921) [30:37]
À Chloris (trans. violin and piano) [3:03]
Nocturne in E flat major (trans. violin and piano) [7:02]
Si mes vers avaient des ailes (trans. cello and piano) [2:21]
Vocalise-Étude (trans. viola and piano) [3:47]
James Baillieu (piano), Benjamin Baker, Bartosz Woroch (violin), Adam Newman (viola), Tim Lowe (cello)
rec. 2015, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK

Hahn’s chamber music has begun to be explored in recent years and we are fortunate that duplications in the repertoire – the Violin Sonata, for instance or, as here, the Piano Quartet and Quintet - has encouraged greater familiarity with his works on a larger canvas than that of the songs, famously lovely though they are.

Pianist James Baillieu anchors the programme splendidly – indeed the booklet and jewel case contain three pictures of the instrumentalist and none of the poor composer - and with his colleagues takes on the Piano Quartet No.3 and Quintet in F sharp minor. The Quartet dates from 1946, the year before Hahn’s death, and is a four-movement work whose Fauréan tapestry is occasionally heightened by reminiscences of a Beethovenian violin figure. The profuse lyric generosity of the writing is refined, expressive and strongly conveyed in this well-integrated reading, of which the slow movement is especially touching. The arrival of the melancholic string figure is finely calibrated and the playing in the finale is admirably conversational.

The Piano Quintet was composed a quarter of a century earlier in 1921. Molto agitato e con fuco may not necessarily be the indication one would expect of Hahn but that’s what he asks for in the opening of this work and it rivets attention in much the same way as the succeeding Amoroso section (very Hahn, this) as the music slows to reflect and recover. The slow movement is, in part, a kind of refraction of Faure’s Elégie and conjures great clam, whilst the finale is all fresh-faced innocence.

These then are the columns that support the programme but each of the players has a chance to shine in the instrumental arrangements. Violinist Benjamin Baker takes on À Chloris and plays it with a touchingly fragile, even ethereal tone, making a memorable song a marvelous transcription. Violist Adam Newman digs into the freewheeling folkloric elements of the conservatoire test piece, the Vocalise-Étude with élan whilst cellist Tim Lowe honours one of Hahn’s best-known pieces, the song Si mes vers avaient des ailes with fine phrasing. Surprise, surprise, the Nocturne in E flat major is actually written for the violin, so Bartosz Woroch is on home ground for this warmly romantic if, at seven minutes, over-optimistic opus (not Woroch’s fault).

Alternative performances are certainly available but tend not to couple the large-scale chamber works together. The Gabriel Quartet has an all-Hahn disc on Maguelone and play the Piano Quartet No.3; the Ames Piano Quartet does the same on Sono Luminus. There’s an excellent Chilingirian Quartet performance of the Quintet on Hyperion and the Parisii has taped it on Naive. Again, however, the programme under review is very differently constructed.

The fine notes are by Philip Borg-Wheeler, who reviews for this site, and the Champs Hill recording, which I initially found rather billowy, is attractive but manages to catch close-up sniffs (Baker in particular). Such are the pleasures of this disc, however, that such small matters shouldn’t detain you.

Jonathan Woolf

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