Hyperion Records

Fêtes galantes
Fêtes galantes is another Verlaine poem which many a French composer has felt obliged to set. There is the Watteau-like elegance—somewhat laid back—of Fauré’s song, entitled Mandoline. Debussy’s early setting of the same title is breathless and piquant, a whirl of activity in a froth of swirling skirts. Hahn’s combines attributes of each without quite being as successful as either. In his hands there is something (deliberately?) banal about these exchanges of courtly pleasantries. Fauré suggests the artifice of studied self-control, but here we have the small-talk of Louis XV’s Versailles exchanged by the mindless courtiers and hangers-on. The left hand in the treble clef sounds the twanged note of the mandoline, the right is preoccupied with a the circular repetition of a high and tinkling phrase in double thirds which is cheekily repeated until the entry of the voice. ‘L’éternel Clitandre’ gets a raised eyebrow of impatience and boredom with a sudden plunge in the bass. At ‘Leurs courtes vestes de soie’ Hahn introduces an individual touch, unusual in his writing: descending semitones in the vocal line are followed by upward jumps of an octave; these are abetted by deft piano arpeggios in the same direction. Accompanying the final word ‘brise’ two chromatic scales in contrary motion usher in a final ritornello. There is a real impression of emptiness at the end of it all, and this gay superficiality may well have been exactly what the composer intended.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996

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