March 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)
Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto; Suite Hongroise  
Denis Clavier (violin); Angéline Pondepeyre (piano)
  Philharmonie de Lorraine conducted by Fernand Quattrocchi. Recorded in Metz, France in 1997
  MAGUELONE MAG 111.106   [73:56]

Reynaldo Hahn

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 delightful work.

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.

Ian Lace

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