Belle Époque

12/02/2018
Geoff Adams
Otago Daily Times

The Classics

Reynaldo Hahn Belle Epoque. Leslie Howard and Mattia Ometto (pianists). Melba 2 CDs

This double album on Australian label Melba features the complete works for two pianos and piano duet (two pairs of hands on one piano) written by Hahn (1874-1947).

He was born in Venezuela but naturalised as a Frenchman. Hahn was a composer, conductor, diarist, theatre director and salon singer. Belle Epoque comprises his music that enchanted salons of early 20th-century Paris with its luxury, elegance and refinement. Audiences revelled then in Hahn's Gallic wit and charm.

Here it is played by two very talented pianists, Leslie Howard and Mattia Ometto.

Howard is one of the most prodigious musicians today - a critic in the BBC Music Magazine called him ``the finest living exponent of Liszt''. His recorded series of all Liszt's Piano music for Hyperion ran to 94 full-length CDs (earning a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest recording project ever tackled by a solo artist, including pop musicians). It included all Liszt's versions of piano music and consisted of more than 300 premiere performances. He is assisted on this album by Ometto, the winner of several international prizes in Europe and the United States.

Side one consists of the world premiere recordings of Hahn's works for two pianos, 17 tracks in all, including a dozen waltzes and Caprice melancolique pour deux pianos. Side 2 contains the duet works, including seven short berceuses, and variations on popular themes, including melodies of Carl Reinecke (1905) and Charles Levade (1892), again world premieres.

This well-recorded music is mainly calm, gentle and melodic - not the gay whirl of Folies Bergere that some might expect, but quite interesting and able to be enjoyed by sympathetic modern ears.

Opinion: 97 minutes of historic, refined salon music.