Belle Époque

Angus McPherson
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Venezuelan-born French composer Reynaldo Hahn is best known for his songs, and there’s certainly a finely-crafted lyricism to this first- of-its-kind survey of his works for two pianos and piano four-hands on Melba, especially under the sensitive ministrations of pianists Mattia Ometto and Leslie Howard.

A fellow student of Ravel’s, Hahn cut his teeth playing and singing
in the salons of Fin-de-Siècle
Paris. While nostalgia for this era infuses the 12 waltzes of Le ruban denoué (the untied ribbon) for two pianos, ominous currents whorl beneath the charming surface of music composed to soothe Hahn’s comrades on the Western Front. The darkly beautiful Danse de l’amour du chagrin (dance of love and sorrow) is a highlight, and typifies the characters at work.

In a similar vein, Pour bercer un convalescent (for rocking the cradle of a convalescent) has a sad, lilting sweetness. The first disc comes
to a close with two earlier works, Caprice mélancolique from 1897 and Scherzo lent from 1891, pleasant salon fare that lacks the depth of the wartime offerings.

As do the works for four-hands on the second disc. While never less than beautiful, these pieces – whose dates hover either side of the turn of the century – are prettier than they are profound. The variations on an unusual theme by Charles Levadé that cap off the disc, however, are delightful in their capriciousness, bringing to a close a fine album that will have you pining for Parisian salons long past.