James Baillieu

Reynaldo Hahn: Chamber Music & Song, Vol. 1

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Reynaldo Hahn believed that Fauré was the last great composer, and he maintained a resolutely late Romantic style through the musical and social upheavals of the early 20th century. The Piano Quartet No. 3 in G major, composed in 1946, has a musical language perhaps more refined than that of his earlier works, but no more progressive. But things aren't exactly as they seem: the subtlety and hypnotic quality of these pieces suggest Debussy, even if the tonal experimentation is absent. These days, Hahn is best known for his songs, but if the Chamber Music & Song subtitle here leads you to believe you will be getting vocal music, you'll be disappointed: the vocal works here are presented in instrumental transcriptions, parceled out among the string players recruited by pianist James Baillieu. Sample the Nocturne in E flat major, built from a simple rising figure but becoming transcendent as it rises into infinity at the end, for an idea of the quiet beauties of Hahn. Even in broader works, such as the Piano Quintet in F sharp minor (1921), he tends to hint at drama rather than plunge into it, and there are no sharp contrasts in either tempo or dynamics. To avoid monotony in these mélodies writ large requires exceptional sensitivity that brings out the details of melodic shape and the gentle ebb and flow, and that's exactly what they get here from Baillieu and his collaborators. These are extraordinary performances, embodying chamber music in its deepest sense, and the Champs Hill label, recording in its own Music Room in Sussex, does them full justice.

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