Venezuelan, naturalised French Early Modern composer Reynaldo Hahn [1874–1947] wrote two string quartets. Interestingly, they were both from 1939.
The First Quartet begins in a sumptuous manner at an andante tempo. Very lyrical, the violins express positive feelings against a finely crafted ensemble background. A slight diminution in intensity allows for the cello to add its own solo moment, before the violins again rise to the surface and the music totally changes into a joyful passage that has Romantic leanings. The violins are most attractive here, evoking a characteristic French feeling. Again the intensity drops back and we are left with the two violins thoughtful before a return to the previous feeling and a change in harmony to go with it. The music briefly strengthens, then drops back to a sparsity with the violins controlled, allowing the cello to step forward – I hear the flavour of Debussy here. As the end approaches the sound fades into a handful of quiet chords.
The next, brief movement has more of an Early Modern flavour to it, with a lamenting passage for two violins. Now a motif is introduced, producing a more positive intent, although it is rather measured. The modernity is left behind and the end is another exercise in self-control.
The third, andantino (relaxed, moderate tempo; slightly faster than andante) movement, features a placid solo violin introduction before the ensemble drifts in, seamlessly. Again, luxuriant sounds are heard as the violins seem to ponder in a thoughtful passage. The lyrical also returns – this is a beautiful section, showing admirable restraint as it drifts towards a sombre finish.
The finale opens in a spirited mood, with a sense of gaiety as the violins craft another passage with a most French feeling. Becoming quite animated, their interweaving lines move into a section underpinned by a strong cello. Development continues as the violins converse in an invigorated manner before concluding on a series of flourishes.
I would also like to discuss just the third movement of the Second Quartet as it contains many wonderful moments. Opening with a most pleasurable harmonic background, measured violins slowly increase the intensity, without disturbing this mood. For me, this is a new kind of beauty – it’s not familiar, although it has some of the sensitivity of Guillaume Lekeu’s brilliant string quartet, the only one he wrote. There is warmth and a great depth of expression here, and a sustained feeling of wonder. It acts as a foreboding look forward, to more troubled times and it seems the composer is making the most of the situation. The violins are absolutely marvellous, as they seem to offer hints of the past, but in a personal manner. Sustained ascending melodic lines move into a warm chord to end this fine movement.
The review CD, which also contains a terrific, tempestuous Piano Quintet, seems to be titled Hahn: Quatuor Parisii on Amazon US and Hahn: Piano Quintet, String Quartets on Amazon UK. It is performed by Quatuor Parisii issued on the naïve classique label.
This CD is on Spotify, although I had a little trouble searching for it – the quintet can be heard on YouTube.
Listenability: Very attractive quartets of great substance.