How agreeable it is to listen to three sunny melodic works,
so full of warmth and nostalgia with the minimum of angst. It really is amazing
how these works have escaped the recording studios for so long. Although, in
a way, perhaps, it isn’t, for it has only been in the last few years that the
musical establishment has turned away from atonality and admitted a (sneaking?)
liking for such unashamedly Romantic, even sentimental, works like these gems.
As far as I know, Reynaldo Hahn never wrote any film music
but how well his approachable high-spirited music would have suited so many
French films of the 1930s and 40s.
Hahn’s music, redolent of the ‘Belle Epoche’ of the 1890s,
and the period leading up to World War I, is very approachable, well crafted
and often surprisingly original. So far it has only been his songs, and little
else, that has been represented in the catalogues so this disc is doubly welcome.
The Piano Concerto’s opening movement, marked Improvisation:
modéré, begins in an almost devotional manner before broadening
out to embrace material that has a rather cosy French provincial rustic flavour.
The second subject is reminiscent of Schumann. Succeeding moods contrast the
intimate and dreamy with a rumbustious out-of-doors freshness. The brief central
Dance: vif , is full of wit and sparkle and reminds one of Saint-Saëns
in playful mood and suggests pre-echoes of Poulenc’s insouciance. The substantial
final movement is cast in the form of a triptych: first a lovely, sighing Schumann-like
Rêverie that truly haunts; the tempo accelerates into the unruly
self-mocking Toccata and the whole is rounded off with a return, after
a cadenza, to a dignified close with an allusion to the opening material. A
Hahn’s Piano Concerto (first performed in 1930) is available
on a historic recording conducted by the composer with soloist, Magda Tagliaferro
(Pearl GEM0157) and there is a modern alternative (Hyperion CDA66897) with Stephen
Coombes and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jean-Yves Ossonce.
Reviewing the latter performance, earlier, I was impressed with Coombes’s sparkling
wit and virtuosity. Pondepeyre’s rather careful approach cannot quite match
Coombe’s lightness of touch.
Hahn’s Violin Concerto and Suite Hongroise receive their premier
recording on this disc.
Denis Clavier is a more assured soloist in the lovely Violin
Concerto; his sweet poetic phrasing and technical control a delight to the
ear. The work was premiered in 1928. The opening movement marked Décidé,
reminds one of the opulence of Korngold. It is strongly rhythmic with determined
orchestral tuttis that are slightly military and even jazzy in character but
the music is predominantly beautifully lyrical, joyous and sunny with the melodic
sweetness of Massenet. Massenet also informs the central movement, Chant
d’amour, subtitled ‘Souvenir de Tunis’ and, indeed, the heat and languor
of North Africa is nicely brought to mind. This movement is a gorgeous, fragrant,
sensual confection; as one of my colleague reviewers has so aptly written, "
[it]hovers between dance and delirium". The finale, Lent – Vif
et léger, opens quietly so as not to destroy the mood of the slow
movement, but soon the pace accelerates and we are whirled away in a merry dance.
This performance of the Violin Concerto was recorded live.
Amazingly, the Hungarian Suite for Violin, Piano, Percussion
and String Orchestra appears never to have been previously performed. It
is difficult to date; the score deposited at the SACEM (Society of Authors,
Composers and Music Publishers) was simply marked "19th
November 1948". It is a charming, melodic work beginning with a zestful
rhythmic movement, Parade, that sounds like a robust mix of Slav and
Scottish dance figures. The second movement, Three Images de la Reine de
Hongrie, is cast in three sections two slow enclosing a more agitated
passage. It begins in deep romantic yearning (with yet another lovely Hahn melody)
and ends plaintively. The last movement, Chants et Danses brings this
delightful work to a lively conclusion.
A truly enchanting album calculated to chase away the winter
blues. It is incredible to believe that these are premier recordings of Hahn’s
Violin Concerto and the Suite Hongroise, both are so effulgently melodic.