Monday 21 May 2018

Reynaldo Hahn chamber music

Reynaldo Hahn - Chamber Music - James Baillieu - Champs Hill Records
Reynaldo Hahn Piano Quartet No. 3 in G major, Piano Quintet in F sharp minor, songs; James Baillieu, Benjamin Baker, Bartosz Woroch, Adam Newman, Tim Lowe; Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Gorgeous melodies and a sophisticated feel for form in these unashamedly late-Romantic pieces

The music on this disc is delightful, and you wonder why we have not heard more of it and then you look at the dates. Reynaldo Hahn's Piano Quartet No. 3 dates from 1946 whilst his Piano Quintet dates from 1921, these are late dates indeed for such Faure-inspired music. I had been introduced to Hahn's instrumental music via Stephen Coombes recording of his piano concerto (with Jean-Yves Ossance and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Hyperion) and have been delighted to make the acquaintance of Hahn's chamber music via this lovely new disc from James Baillieu (piano), Benjamin Baker and Bartosz Woroch (violins), Adam Newman (viola) and Tim Lowe (cello) on Champs Hill, the first volume of a promised sequence.

On this disc the performers pair Hahn's Piano Quartet No. 3 and Piano Quintet with four shorter pieces each giving one of the instrumentalists a chance to shine with the Nocturne in E-flat Major and transcriptions of the songs, A Chloris, Vocalise-Etude and Si mes vers avaiet des ailes.

Hahn was taught by Massenet and Saint-Saens, he was something of a prodigy and many of his better known songs date from early in his career. But his composing career lasted until 1948 and he remained firmly committed to the late-Romantic idiom. In both the quartet and quintet on this disc you can clearly hear the influence of Faure, plus of course both of Hahn's teachers but I also found myself thinking about Dvorak's chamber music too. Melodic facility is linked to a strong (and traditional) feeling for form and relative harmonic conservatism. It is this feeling for form which keeps the music together and ensures that Hahn's melodies rarely lapse into sentimentality or self indulgence.

Nowadays we are less inclined to worry about such elements in a composition, and are happy for Hahn's work to exist alongside stylistically more advanced pieces. This recording came about after James Baillieu and friends gave well-received performances of Hahn's chamber music at the Brighton Festival.

They play the music with real affection and sophistication, bringing out the links to previous composers whilst giving Hahn the beauty of line and flexibility of phrasing that he needs. In the quartet & quintet, the two slow movements have a superb time-stops-still quality with the players highlighting the richness of Hahn's harmonic language. Both the quartet and quintet are substantial works, yet neither seems to outstay its welcome.

The Nocturne in E flat is a similarly large-scale (seven minutes duration) single-movement work for violin and piano dating from 1906. It is finely lyrical, and beautifully played by violinist Bartosz Worch, who combines elegance and melodic fluidity with surprising depth. Each of the other string players receives a bon bouche of one of the songs, with violinist Benjamin Baker giving us lovely singing tone in A Chloris, viola player Adam Newman playing the Vocalise-Etude with a beautifully veiled sense of exoticism, and cellist Tim Lowe really giving wing to Si mes vers avaiet des ailes.

Throughout pianist James Baillieu accompanies, partners, supports and shines throughout. The quartet and quintet have substantial piano parts (Hahn was a fine pianist) but Baillieu has the knack of playing with great collegiality so that the works do not become solo piano pieces with accompaniment (as can happen with late Romantic piano writing in piano chamber music).

This is a delightful disc, well worth exploring if you enjoy Hahyn's songs.
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) - Piano quartet No. 3 in G major
Reynaldo Hahn - A chloris
Reynaldo Hahn - Vocalise-Etude
Reynaldo Hahn - Si mes vers avaiet des ailes
Reynaldo Hahn - Nocturne in E flat major
Reynaldo Hahn - Piano Quintet in F sharp minor
James Baillieu (piano)
Benjamin Baker (violin)
Bartosz Woroch (violin)
Adam Newman (viola)
Tim Lowe (cello)
Recorded in the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, 27-29 October 2015
Available from Amazon.

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