Pianist Yoonie Han

By Scott MacClelland

BEST WAY to get me to a concert is to perform something I haven’t heard before. Yoonie Han did just that for the Aptos Keyboard Series on Sunday with just under 40 minutes of piano music by Reynaldo Hahn. (You can hear the composer sing and play his own music on our Weekly Magazine, July 17, HERE.)  

Hahn is best known for his songs; his greatest hit is “À Chloris.” (See today’s Weekly Magazine.) Yoonie Han, in her second appearance in the Aptos Keyboard Series, played an all-Hahn program of excerpts from a program she will be recording in San Francisco this week. These included selections from Hahn’s Le rossignol éperdu (The Bewildered Nightingale) that are salon music at best—charming musical wallpaper that makes no pretense to command attention. But it’s too glib to dismiss Hahn, a Caracas-born Parisian who began exhibiting mature, nuanced sensitivity to the French language and French poetry by the age of 13 with his hit setting of a Victor Hugo poem, “Si mes vers avaient des ailes.” If these keyboard miniatures make small demands of an audience they are not shy at all when it comes to a pianist. Han is particularly well-suited for them, given the delicacy of her touch and transparency of her textures.

In the Premiere Suite, Han selected ten movements from the original, all with titles usually more clever than the music itself. Such is the character of salon music, which, during Hahn’s life was evaporating under the gathering cloud of World War I. The more memorable pieces were presented in the second half of her recital: Orient (La Rose de Blida and L’Oasis) and Carnet de Voyage (Travelogue). Carnet wittily captured impressions collected during travel. “Les Pages d’Elisabeth,” following the composer’s visit to England, used a dotted rhythm to create a processional in the manner of Handel. “L’Ange Verrier,” written in 1910 and inspired by the famous stained glass windows of the Bourges Cathedral, rose to ecstatic heights.

Han, who verbally described the sources and poems Hahn turned into ephemera, said that he dedicated one of them “to his wife.” Hahn loved the company of women, but had no sexual interest in them. (For a time in his youth, his lover was Marcel Proust.) I could find no evidence that he ever had a wife.

Yoonie Han opened her program with an instrumental bit from Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice best known as Mélodie.