‘Le rossignol éperdu’ is to Hahn what Lieder ohne Worte
is to Mendelssohn and Lyric Pieces
to Grieg. It is a set of 53 short piano pieces, the earliest composed in 1899 when Hahn was in his mid-twenties, and completed in 1911. They were published in 1912 in four suites: Première Suite
, Carnet de voyage
. The nightingale of the title is ‘éperdu’, translated variously as ‘bewildered’, ‘distracted’, ‘ecstatic’ or, in Timpani’s opaque booklet, ‘distraught’. The late Alistair Londonderry in his superior booklet-notes for Earl Wild’s 2001 world premiere recording suggests that ‘Perhaps this nightingale is all of these things. The collection can also be seen as a travel journal kept by a sensitive and sentimental melancholic.’ ‘Bewildering’ certainly describes the range of poets, paintings and places that inspired Hahn, as well as the sheer variety of these ‘poèmes pour piano’ (the work’s subtitle), the longest of which (No 3, ‘Douloureuse rêverie dans un bois de sapins’) lasts just over seven minutes in the hands of Billy Eidi, the shortest (No 14, ‘Portrait’) a mere 37 seconds.
Hahn’s unique musical style is a deft amalgam of Massenet (his teacher), Fauré and even Debussy (of whom, however, Hahn was not an admirer), with nods along the way to Mendelssohn, the clavecinistes (‘Les noces du duc de joyeuse’) and others. Each number on its own is an exquisite gem and to hear a handful at a time is delightful; but I wonder if Hahn is best served by having the four suites presented in two lengthy tranches (disc 1 of 30 numbers, 73'36"; disc 2 of 23 numbers, 57'42"), despite the sensitive playing of Eidi (a French pupil of Magda Tagliaferro and a specialist in French Romantic keyboard music). That said, I like his version every bit as much as Wild’s, both of them well recorded with appropriate intimacy.