Hahn: Etudes Latines; Rondels

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COMPOSERS: Hahn
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Etudes Latines; Rondels
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott (soprano), Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano); London Schubert Chorale/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67141/2
Reynaldo Hahn’s fascination lies more in who he was than what he wrote. Half-Venezuelan and half-German-Jewish, he was born in Caracas in 1875 but spent more of his life in Paris, where he was an important member of the beau monde and, among other things, Proust’s lover and lifelong friend.

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In his tireless quest to promote neglected areas of the song repertory, Graham Johnson champions his work persuasively. His playing, as always, is exemplary, and his scholarship awesome. But even so, this recital is not an entirely convincing case for Hahn’s songs. Though many are elegant and lyrical, there is an overwhelming sense of pastiche, of looking backwards, and little of the atmosphere that defines the songs of his contemporaries. The Rondels and Etudes Latines, a bizarrely kitsch effort at conjuring the music of Ancient Rome, quite apart from the sentimental, if sometimes sensuous, salon-style settings of poems by Verlaine and Hugo, suggest his influences lay in the past: Gounod and Massenet, rather than Fauré or Debussy.

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Felicity Lott, Susan Bickley and Stephen Varcoe, all fine, accomplished singers, do justice to these lightweight mélodies, and the effect is often delightful. But only the outstanding tenor Ian Bostridge, who sings – with brilliant conviction – just four of the 51 songs, really makes them seem special. Claire Wrathall