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Track(s) taken from CDA67141/2

Douze Rondels


Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: December 1995
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown & Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: June 1996
Total duration: 20 minutes 21 seconds

Cover artwork: Two Angels (c1870) by Charles Sellier (1830-1882)


'What treasures are here … the two discs provide an unmissable opportunity to explore a composer who is underrated and overlooked perhaps because he was too modest about himself. There are melodies here which Massenet, Debussy, Fauré and Ravel would have been proud to call their own. No one can fail to have their musical horizon broadened by these discs, which will assuredly come high among my Records of the Year, any year … these discs have given me as much pleasure as any I have heard this year … to hear Felicity Lott in Les étoiles, Susan Bickley in Offrande and Ian Bostridge in Tyndaris is to relish some of the most accomplished vocal artistry of the day' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'Some fascinating rarities' (Gramophone)

'To wonderful songs … [the artists] bring delicacy, grace, an emotion the more poignant for being understated … Not to be missed' (The Observer)

'This gorgeous set … Irresistible' (The Sunday Times)

'This is music for the intellect, interpreted with the utmost sensitivity' (Hi-Fi News)

'Ces chanteurs brittaniques interprètent ces petits bijoux avec soin touchant. Par la qualité du phrasé, ils lui restituent sa qualité essentielle, le sens du mot et de la ligne mélodique' (Répertoire, France)

'Graham Johnson choisir ses chanteurs qui possèdent une musicalité irréprochable et un français non seulement intelligible mais évocateur—et de les accompanger avec tant de poésie' (Diapason, France)
Like many another composer of conservative leanings, Hahn was fascinated by the past and the strict rules that governed the art of former times. In this set of twelve songs he was able to enter into the spirit of the literary discipline which governs the making of the rondel. This is a thirteen-line poem consisting of two quatrains and one cinquain. There are only two rhymes permitted, and there are three appearances of a fixed refrain: at the beginning, middle and end of the poem. The rhyme scheme is as follows (the capital letters indicate refrains which almost always incorporate the title of the poem itself): A B b a  a b A B  a b b a A.

The composer had the idea of juxtaposing Banville’s latter-day rondels with three of Charles d’Orléans originals (the second, sixth and eighth songs of the cycle). At the end there is a rondel by Catulle Mendès which, with its reference to singing, may well have been written as a closing item for this cycle at Reynaldo’s request. Hahn’s lavish musical plan included the use of a chorus in the first, sixth and eleventh items; this makes modern-day performance of the work on the concert platform expensive and unlikely. The musical style of the Banville settings is more or less in the ‘modern’ style of the composer’s second Recueil of mélodies (some of the piano parts are as difficult as anything he wrote for the instrument) while in contrast the Charles d’Orléans settings bring out Hahn’s gifts as a pasticheur. There had been a long tradition in the composers of mélodie (Gounod and Fauré were the greatest, but by no means the only examples) of matching early poetry with music in ‘madrigal’ style evocative of earlier times. The use of this time-travelling in film music has rather debased the coin (despite Walton’s splendid music for Olivier’s Henry V) and after hearing ‘early’ music churned out by the yard in costume dramas, listeners no longer regard pastiche as serious composition. It was, however, something on which Reynaldo was increasingly to rely for the visitations of his muse. In any case, at the turn of the century even a giant like Debussy (in his Villon ballads and his own settings of Charles d’Orléans) was not above the use of archaic colour in his songs to suggest the fifteenth-century provenance of the words. Ravel too had an early success with his Pavane pour une infante défunte.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996

Other albums featuring this work

Hahn: Chansons grises & other songs
L'heure exquise
Studio Master: CDA67962Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The exquisite hour
Studio Master: SIGCD072Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
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