Reynaldo Hahn: Etudes latines – Venezia – Chansons grises – Mélodies inédites – La Dame aux camélias – Premier Recueil – Rondels – Les Feuilles blessées – Second Recueil – Troisième Volume – Neuf Mélodies retrouvées – Five Little Songs – Love without Wings
Tassis Christoyannis (baritone), Jeff Cohen (piano)
Recording: Palazzetto Bru Zane, Venice, Italy (November 3-11, 2018 and January 31-February 7, 2019) – 253’09
Four CDs Bru Zane BZ 2002 – Booklet in English, French and German
Winner of the Aldo Protti Gold Medal in 1994, Tassis Christoyannis has gone on to become one of the most sought-after baritones, landing with a strong foothold in the Classical and Romantic arenas. Another silver lining to his portfolio pivots around American pianist Jeff Cohen whose collaboration has culminated in recording five CDs focused on mélodies by Félicien David, Edouard Lalo, Benjamin Godard and Camille Saint-Saëns, and, most recently, works by Fernand de La Tombelle. He’s added to his stellar anthology with roles in Gounod’s Le Tribut de Zamora and Cinq-Mars. Now we have the privilege of the Christoyannis/Cohen team canvassing the complete songs by Reynaldo Hahn...all 107 of them.
Reynaldo Hahn’s music is transcendently pure with honest conveyances in varying moods and temperaments throughout the thirteen souvenirs. Tassis Christoyannis and Jeff Cohen innately integrate poetic words grounded by the Symbolist movement, though Hahn’s acumen reached more heavily into the columns of Romanticism (he was a pupil of Jules Massenet) and Neoclassicism. It’s hard fathoming why M. Hahn has never been more broadly broadcast until recently, for the reverent naïveté expressed on so many fronts gives a nudge of comforting humility: the ear never tolls with duress, but, instead, cleanly floats.
Set upon the Parnassian Movement and Leconte de Lisle’s overtures is where we begin to experience Tassis Christoyannis’ silky approaches for the first time. Etudes latines’ ”Néère” entrées a perfectly matched tessitura for this and forthcoming pieces. Understandably, the baritone is able to soothe the austere Grecian marbleless with a profoundly mythological candor. A sudden diversion occurs during Venezia, swinging open with the barcarolle-esque ”Sopra l’acqua indormenzada”...it courts lightness and showcases a carefree spirit especially since the text is sung in Italian.
Dramatically, Tassis Christoyannis maintains a consistent levelness in most every crest of emotion he encounters, though pleasant disruptions occasionally surface. Such an example occurs during ”C’est à Paris!” where a sexy outline is reached with a contemporariness feeling...his boundaries are suddenly stretched. The vibe is first exposed during the opening remarks from La Dame aux camélias’ opening ”Mon rêve” with its modernistic momentum and romantically-driven carriage. Librettist for the successful Christiné opérette légère, Phi-Phi, Albert Willemetz helped turn ”Mon rêve” into one of Reynaldo Hahn’s most gorgeous pieces.
Accreditation for Hahn’s élan strongly points to Jeff Cohen whose backdrop liquefies the subject matter on every corner. His iridescences are prolific during the Premier Recueil…roulades provide a sparkling backdrop to ”Si mes vers avaient des ailes” while the ensuing ”Paysage”, set to the poetic flourishes of André Theuriet, has a grounded Benjamin Godard salon nuanced crowning. A redemptive spirit awaits and soon awakens within ”D’une prison” with its Gothic grounding. These widely varied subjects ebb and flow, providing a wonderful potpourri of textures which M. Christoyannis conveys like fine threads on glossy musical cloth.
Furthermore, Paul Verlaine’s soulfully strong vocabulary builds through mild swells of varnished sobriety inside Chansons grises...the color’s hues are coherently balanced by Tassis Christoyannis’ incandescence, exuding everything from muted hopefulness (ref: “L’Allée est sans fin”) to a capture of a Camille Pissarro-like painting inside “Paysage triste”. Similarly, a sense of undisclosed lugubriousness is revealed during Les Feuilles blessées with a hovering dismal overreach, often eclipsed by respites of shininess. That’s why this album has passive uncertainty...there remains selected keys into the hymnal journey of good and evil. M. Christoyannis can make intangible sense out of these apprehensions.
Jules Massenet prominently comes to mind as the listener wends into the Troisième Volume...”Aimons-nous” fittingly suits M. Christoyannis’ voice, and we can easily hear how well he sets up the sentimentality of the song. An elderly pontification pays homage within ”Au pays musulman” alongside the melismatic ”Vocalise-Etude” filled with a mesmerizing enchantment that reminisces upon Félicien David’s exotic landscaping, particularly that of Le Désert and the opéra-comique, Lalla-Roukh.
Those with an Anglophone persuasion will be treated to Hahn’s beauties that are cemented by Robert Louis Stevenson and Mary Robinson. Here we find a shifting of energy, discovering more Broadway-like reasoning that begins early on in ”The Swing” with the follow-on, ”My Ship and I” that accentuates the Britannic elements with an enlivening kick à la Gilbert & Sullivan. To emulate étoiles, M. Hahn gives M. Cohen the gift of illustrious pulsations, guiding the pianist into an effective stippled nomenclature. Yet we turn, again, to ”A Good Boy” with its juvenile and basic remarks...simple and steadfast. Uncertainties prevail under English scrutiny as it homes in on ”The Fallen Oak”...we’re levelled to a realistic base...inevitably, the tree “checks in” at the front door in a moment of definitive closure. Most compelling.
Ultimately, Reynaldo Hahn’s depictions proudly and profoundly meander their home to the French Romantic canon. Unfailingly, each selection is an independent vignette, each destined for special treatment, each with a demurred target to penetrate the listener. With the elegance of a lustrous voice, Tassis Christoyannis is able to tap into a poet’s reserve and widen the reaches of Reynaldo Hahn’s song cycles. M. Christoyannis sings with candor and exquisite compassion. A most definitive recording...superlative.
Palazzetto Bru Zane Website