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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Figures in a sunlit wood (detail) by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
Sotheby’s Picture Library
Track(s) taken from CDA67258
Recording details: December 2000
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: October 2001
Total duration: 27 minutes 1 seconds

'A pair of piano quintets that are as different as could be in terms of musical expression, but prove to be complementary companion pieces that make very appealing listening' (The Daily Telegraph)

Piano Quintet in F sharp minor

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Hahn’s Piano Quintet was composed in 1922 and published the following year. It shares its relatively uncommon key of F sharp minor with a fine example by his senior American contemporary, the demurely self-styled Mrs H H A Beach. Its compactly arresting first theme is strikingly close in all particulars to that which opens the First Piano Concerto of another contemporaneous figure, the Swedish composer Adolf Wiklund. In general terms this work is as far removed from Vierne’s Quintet as one could imagine. Its opening is fresh, agreeably direct and completely without preamble. The style is both comfortably eclectic and unashamedly retrospective: modulation techniques suggest the most youthful works of Fauré, such as his A major Violin Sonata, Opus 13 (1875/6), while the natural songwriter’s intermittent taste for unassuming chordal repetition in the piano accompaniment to overt thematic exposition suggests a remote debt to Schubert. The music—and in particular its fleet-footed but economical piano part—has a deft, lucid mobility and an economy of rhetorical gesture far less easy to achieve than it sounds. A Dvorák-like openness and quasi-vernacular charm comes and goes, while at other times the pianist’s indefatigable ripplings suggest Mendelssohn’s piano-trio writing. A memorably successful second subject gives place to resourceful examination of both principal ideas. F sharp major expansiveness asserts itself late on in the movement, only to be subverted by the almost tongue-in-cheek terseness of a final return to the minor.

The slow second movement presents a soulful, song-like theme in C sharp minor. Fauré seems to preside more closely over the unhurried triple time and the instrumentation itself. Tritonal opposition of non-cadential dominant sevenths and ninths enhance the ‘sidestepping’ effect of key changes, perhaps reminding one that the youthful Fauré had pursued Wagner performances to Bayreuth and to England in company with Messager in the eighteen-eighties, and suggesting that Wagnerian technique (not generally very apparent in Fauré’s stylistic make-up) might nonetheless be a productive subliminal influence for the perceptive Fauré disciple. This movement remains predominantly introverted, ostensibly heading towards a climax but then relaxing into the idyllic retrospection of an unexpected F major episode (ushering in a change of time signature). The dominant pedal note underpinning this passage conveys a certain quasi-rustic wistfulness which again suggests the prayer-like sensibility of certain quiet Dvorák chamber movements. Subsequent features include string unison writing (typical of Fauré) at moments of heightened intensity, ingenious combination of the themes from both foregoing sections (and time signatures), and a reprise of the secondary paragraph, heard now a semitone lower than before. The movement reaches an unhurried conclusion in the key of C sharp major.

The Quintet’s third and last movement plays a time-honoured ‘is-it-a-scherzo/intermezzo-or-a-finale?’ game, launching itself with amiable simplicity as another would-be rustic conception over a musette-like pedal note. As this proceeds it begins to admit a touch of melodic ‘neo-Baroquery’. This, in studiedly perverse combination with the homespun wistfulness of the initial conception, seems almost to suggest the improbable intrusion of some synthetically conceived public school song. More to the point, it conveys a shrewdly misleading impression of much more episodic and unassuming structural thinking than is actually at work, as does the Schumannesque cleanness of the ensuing episode’s dialogue between melodic piano octaves and punctuating harmonic strings. Soon the main theme burgeons momentarily in E major. The thematic material of the first movement now becomes more prominent. Some ingeniously resourceful combination of these ideas with those of the slow movement ensues (embracing a mischievous false recapitulation in the key of F major, not F sharp) before a radiant statement of the inspired second subject from the work’s first movement bursts forth in A major. This, however, is not allowed to gain ideas above its station, and nor are we as near the end of the work as its appearance seems to suggest. The generalized example of Fauré and the specific one of Dvorák’s A major Piano Quintet seem to compete amicably (and convincingly) for the limelight. A recapitulation beset by agreeable sleights-of-hand extends the canonic and other possibilities of the music in an F sharp major coda which is in no hurry to end the proceedings but which, thanks to the memorably distinct nature of the principal themes, never threatens to outstay its welcome.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2001

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