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Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Poèmes & Valses
Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)
rec. 2021, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA68383 [71]

The French composer Reynaldo Hahn is a more considerable figure than is often assumed. Certainly, he was not a great composer. But, equally certainly, he was a good minor composer, and we should have a place for such composers in our artistic pantheon. He was also very prolific. There are no fewer than seventeen stage works, mostly operas and operettas, also concertos and orchestral suites, some chamber music and a good number of piano pieces and songs. In recent years there has been something of a Hahn revival, after some years of neglect, and this latest recording is an example. It gives us a substantial sampling from two of his collections of piano pieces.

Hahn’s largest collection is the set of fifty three Poèmes which he titled Le Rossignol Éperdu (The Distraught Nghtingale, although there is nothing particularly distraught about these pieces). We have nineteen of these, divided into two groups, with six of the ten Premières Valses (they could have dropped the Premières as there were to be no Deuxièmes) between them. All these pieces are short, with only one, Hivernale, lasting longer than five minutes. (An incidental pleasure is the delightful titles Hahn gave his pieces, although it is usually impossible to make a link between the title and the work.) In this first collection the emotional range is not great, with lyrical charm and slight melancholy predominating, and there is a fair amount of near-pastiche of older composers. The opening Frontispice begins mysteriously, almost like one of Scriabin’s Preludes, but it soon settles down. You can thereafter hear touches of Schumann in Passante, of Debussy in Les deux écharpes, of Grieg in Les noces du duc de Joyeuse and of Rachmaninov in Le rèveil de Flore. These are mostly lyrical and gentle but Cherubin tragique is skittish and Le pélerinage inutile is sombre and almost made me think of Busoni. Ouranos, placed last, returns us to the mood of the opening Frontispiece.

The Premieres Valses are rather different, being generally more vigorous. Several of them show the influence of Chopin, notably Avec elegance, La Feuille and Sans rigeur. Ninette is an exercise in Spanishry, Valse noble splashy in a rather Lisztian way and Assez vite is really fast and more like a scherzo than a waltz.

Pavel Kolesnikov, the pianist here, has a wide range and tackles these miniatures with enthusiasm and delicacy. They are not profound pieces but they do need careful playing, and the lighthearted ones need to be tossed off, which he does admirably. The recording is up to Hyperion’s usual high standard. You can get a complete recording of Le Rossignol Éperdu on two discs from Billy Eidi on Timpani (review) and the complete Premieres Valses along with a smaller selection from Le Rossignol Éperdu from Catherine Jolly on Accord. But most of us will be well satisfied with a single disc selection and this fits the bill well.

Stephen Barber

Le Rossignol Éperdu
Andromède résignée
Liebel Liebel
Les deux écharpes
La danse de l’amour et de l’ennui
Chérubin tragique
Les rêveries du Prince Églantine
La fête de Terpsichore

Premières Valses
Avec élégance
Valse noble
Assez vite
La feuille
Sans rigeur

Le Rossignol Éperdu
Éros caché dans les bois
Les noces du duc de Joyeuse
Le pèlerinage inutile
Berceuse féroce
Soleil d’automne
Le jardin de Pétrarque
Le réveil de Flore

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