HAHN Concerto provençal. Divertissement
Reynaldo Hahn is best known for his songs, his operettas and his relationship with Marcel Proust: the two were lovers between 1894 and 1896, remaining close friends after their separation; ‘Everything I have ever done has always been thanks to Reynaldo,’ Proust wrote, which is quite a statement. This collaboration between Ensemble Initium and the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie adds considerably to our understanding of both the man and his achievement with a group of works for wind ensemble and orchestra, composed between 1905 and 1944.
It might seem clichéd to say that Hahn, like his one-time lover, was in search of lost time, but his music, which has genuine charm, is at once retro and timeless. Few of the modernist developments of the 20th century seemingly impinged upon his style, which owes much to Massenet (his teacher) and something to Duparc, though the taut, closely woven Sérénade, written during his wartime exile in Monaco, nods in the direction of neo-classical astringency.
Elsewhere, though, a playful fondness for allusion and formal experimentation is very much in evidence. The Divertissement – strikingly scored for wind, piano and string quartet – and Le bal de Béatrice d’Este evoke the atmosphere and music of Vienna and Renaissance Italy respectively. Concerto provençale places the structure of a Baroque concerto grosso at the service of an über-Romantic depiction of trees in the south of France. The performances are all wonderfully idiomatic. The Concerto’s slow movement is breathtakingly done, though the farandole finale could do with a bit more spark. Balance, however, is sometimes a problem, with the Concerto’s soloists too far forward and the Divertissement’s string quartet, formed by the Savoie orchestra’s section leaders, sounding distant. But it’s a fine achievement overall, sensuous and elegant in equal measure. Very enjoyable.