Hahn: Chansons grises

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion Helios
WORKS: Chansons grises
PERFORMER: Martyn Hill (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDH 55040 Reissue (1981)
This recording is now the best part of 20 years old. Martin Hill’s tenor, light yet with plenty of colour, is perfectly suited to Hahn’s deliciously sentimental idiom. It’s an aesthetic that often seems poised at the very edge of mal goût – the camply trotting accompaniment of ‘Fêtes galantes’ gets very close indeed – but rather better than the French equivalent of English Edwardian ballad. For a prime instance listen to ‘L’enamourée’, with its sighing phrase which goes beyond the subtly performed flavour of other songs. But Hahn was a serious and craftsman-like songwriter, something evident from the clarity of his writing. It’s difficult even for one inexpert in the language not to catch most of the words here. Most of the settings on this disc are to texts by his favourite Verlaine, including the seven Chansons grises. Hahn gauges the level of sensuality perfectly, allowing the words to make their point rather than making the point on their behalf, and Hill and his accompanist Graham Johnson relax wonderfully into this rather enticing world. Stephen Pettitt