Massenet/Hahn

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet/Hahn
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Concerto in E flat
PERFORMER: Stephen Coombs (piano) BBC Scottish SO/Jean-Yves Ossonce
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66897
Massenet sketched his only piano concerto in the early 1860s, when he was a student in Rome. He completed it in 1903, by which time he had long been established as the most successful French opera composer of his generation. It was coolly received.

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While going through the motions diligently, the work is certainly unworthy of the composer of Manon. The piano writing may be very fine (Massenet had aspired at one point to a career as a concert pianist), but the musical ideas are mostly commonplace, if partially redeemed by the effective finale, a genre piece entitled ‘Airs slovaques’ which might almost come from one of the composer’s amiable orchestral suites.

One of Massenet’s many pupils, Reynaldo Hahn is remembered mainly for his songs and operettas. His concerto was dedicated to the long-lived Magda Tagliaferro, whose 1937 recording of the piece (with Hahn conducting) is cut, making this the first complete performance on disc. This concerto too lacks memorable ideas, but its boulevardier insouciance and sophisticated (rather Six-y) manner are regularly charming.

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Stephen Coombs’s playing offers sensitive management of texture, though there’s an overall lack of interpretative identity and his tone can be indifferent. Strong support from conductor and orchestra, near-ideal sound. George Hall