HAHN Chamber Music & Song Vol 1
Too little attention has been paid to Reynaldo Hahn’s chamber music of late, so this beautiful CD, marking the start of what promises to be a major reappraisal, is an important addition to his discography. The series is the brainchild of James Baillieu, who was so struck by audience enthusiasm for Hahn’s work during his French chamber music concerts at the 2013 Brighton Festival that he decided to explore it further and more extensively on disc.
The programme for the first volume flanks short pieces and song transcriptions with the G major Piano Quartet, completed in 1946, a year before Hahn’s death, and his only piano quintet, dating from 1921. The latter, closely wrought and at times strikingly intense, reveals a debt to Franck in its use of cyclic form. The influence of Fauré, whom Hahn deeply admired, can be felt in the quartet, which is bittersweet and autumnal in mood. Both works have remarkable slow movements, which form the emotional fulcrums round which they swing: in the quintet, penumbral string harmonies shift uneasily over measured piano chords and figurations; the quartet’s Andante is a barcarolle which unwinds with nostalgic sensuality as time itself, as Baillieu comments in a booklet note, almost seems to stand still.
Both works are beautifully done. Some of Baillieu’s string players took part in the Brighton performances and there’s a strong sense of ensemble here, with an instinctive give and take between its members and a real feel for both the music’s elegance and poise and the altogether darker emotions that lurk beneath its surface. The shorter pieces give each string player a solo in turn. Bartosz Woroch’s lyrical refinement in the E flat violin Nocturne contrasts with the grander sweep of Tim Lowe’s performance of Hahn’s own cello arrangement of ‘Si mes vers avaient des ailes’. Viola player Adam Newman sounds good in the Vocalise-Étude, with its orientalist flourishes that reveal a familiarity with Rimsky’s Sheherazade. I’m not entirely convinced, though, that ‘À Chloris’ works in transcription, since the melodic line, guided by rhetorical flourishes within the text, is apt to lose its way without the words. That’s no reflection, however, on the grace of Benjamin Baker’s playing or Baillieu’s treatment of the accompaniment, which is exquisite.