Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Le Bal de Béatrice d’Este [14:57]
Concerto provençal [22:14]
Sérénade [10:35]
Divertissement pour une fête de nuit [22:20]
Julien Vern (flute); François Lemoine (clarinet); Frank Sibold (bassoon); Julien Desplanque (horn)
Ensemble Initium
Orchestre des Pays de Savoie/Nicolas Chalvin
rec. 2014, Conservatoire, Rueil-Malmaison; Cité des Arts, Chambéry
Premieres: Sérénade and Divertissement
TIMPANI 1C1231 [70:29]

Many will count Reynaldo Hahn as a composer of songs or mélodies but scratch the surface and you will discover that he had many more strings to his compositional bow. The French label Timpani have embarked on a Reynaldo Hahn project, launched with the release last year of a two-CD album of the entire piano cycle entitled Le Rossignol éperdu (review). This latest single CD release, includes two premieres: Divertissement pour une fête de nuit, and Sérénade. What particularly strikes me when listening to Hahn’s music, is the bountiful gift of melody he lavishes on his compositions.

He was born in 1874 in Caracas of a Venezuelan mother and German father. The family moved to France when Reynaldo was four. His talent for music showed its hand early and at the young age of ten he entered the Paris Conservatoire. His composition teachers there included Théodore Dubois and Jules Massenet. Some of his finest songs were penned before his fifteenth year. He was not only a composer but also a conductor and music critic. He remained in France for the remainder of his life, apart from several years during the Second World War when, as a Jew, he left Paris for Toulon, then in Monte Carlo. He had taken up French citizenship in 1907. He died in 1947.

The title of Jacques Tchamkerten’s booklet notes is “One Beautiful Evening ...” and it aptly sums up the nature and character of these works. How would I describe them? They are sunny, upbeat, optimistic, confident, affable and contented.

Le Bal de Béatrice d’Este has a historical perspective, where Hahn takes a backward glance towards the fifteenth century court of Milan. The work is a dance suite in seven movements for wind instruments, two harps and piano, composed and premiered in Paris in 1905, when the composer was thirty. Béatrice is an Italian noblewoman, wife of Lodovico Sforza or ‘Il Moro’ as he was known. She is a patron of the arts, and injects life and vivacity into the court by surrounding herself with intellectuals and artists. Hahn’s intention is to bring the atmosphere of the court to life. Each of the dances is assigned a different combination of instruments, and the archaic titles they bear evoke an age long since vanished - ‘Lesquercade’, ‘Romanesque’ and ‘Courante’. A fanfare opens the piece to depict Il Moro’s regal entrance. Each of the dances which follow conjure up a feeling of convivial charm with the suite ending in a stately manner.

From 1944 comes the late three-movement Concerto provençal. The conductor Fernand Oubradous gave the work an early outing on LP when he took it into the studio for HMV in 1946. Modelled on the concerto grosso, the wind section is pitched against a body of strings. Each movement depicts a tree of the Provence region. The Concerto is tinged with a rural and pastoral flavor. The first movement ‘Sous les platanes’ is pervaded with an air of peace and tranquillity. ‘Sous les pins’, which follows, provides a contrast, being of a sombre and melancholic nature. ‘Sous les olives’ begins with a lyrical clarinet solo and the movement ends with an energetic farandole, an open-chain community dance popular in Provence.

The Sérénade dates from 1942 and remained unpublished at the composer’s death. It was later discovered in a private collection by the musicologist Philippe Blay. Scored for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, it is in three short movements. The two outer movements are bright and cheerful, with a contrasting more melancholic movement sandwiched in the middle.

The Divertissement pour une fête de nuit originates from 1931. It’s a six-movement suite evoking the spirit of old Vienna. The score offers a wealth of ingenuity and invention, expertly scored. The second movement is interesting, being a parody of the finale of a Haydn piano concerto. Yet it’s the final movement which, for me, is the icing on the cake. Entitled Lumières - Valses dans les jardins, it’s a Viennese waltz sequence, brilliantly written, with many harmonic and rhythmic surprises.

The excellent young Ensemble Initium are a wind octet founded in 2005 at the Paris Conservatory. They give wonderfully committed performances, and clearly love and enjoy this music. They are supplemented by the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie, which plays a dutiful role in the Concerto provençal. Nicolas Chalvin’s inspiring direction sets the seal on this winning package.

As with all the Timpani releases I have reviewed, sound quality is top notch. Annotations in French and English provide background to the composer and his music. All I can say is, this disc has been a breath of fresh air.

Stephen Greenbank
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