Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante défunte [5:24]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Après un rêve, Op. 7 No. 1 [3:13]
Élégie, Op. 24 [7:03]
Richard DUBUGNON (b.1968)
Incantatio, Op. 12b [15:05]
Gabriel FAURÉ
Romance, Op. 69 [3:39]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune [4:06]
Lied, Op. 44b [5:50]
La fille aux cheveux de lin [2:38]
Gabriel FAURÉ
Pavane, Op 50 [5:47]
Maxim Rysanov (viola); Ashley Wass (piano)
rec. December 2011, Potton Hall, Saxmundham, Suffolk, UK
BIS BIS-SACD-1773 [52:41] 

Maxim Rysanov is one of our best violists, with a pure rich instrumental tone and great expressive ability. I love his CD of three Bach cello suites in arrangements, and I like this one too: French impressionist music arranged for viola and piano. We have Debussy, Ravel, and Fauré, plus their spiritual descendant, maybe, in Richard Dubugnon (b. 1968).
Everything here is in arrangement. The Ravel Pavane pour une infante défunte sets the disc’s tone-lyrical but gently melancholy-and will be followed by, among others, Fauré’s Élégie, Pavane and Romance, and Debussy’s omnipresent Clair de lune and La fille aux cheveux de lin. Some arrangements are more successful than others: Fauré’s Pavane comes off especially well, and the girl with the flaxen hair is depicted with really fantastic subtlety. On the other hand, I wonder if Rysanov’s own arrangement of the Fauré Elegy doesn’t start off in too high a register. It’s still good.
Then there’s Richard Dubugnon, who has contributed two substantial pieces to the program in arrangements made especially for Maxim Rysanov. Incantatio, a three-movement work spanning fifteen minutes and drawing inspiration from paranormal/psychic rituals (!), is a stylistic odd man out on the CD, more percussive and stubborn than the rest of the music here. It can get, if this isn’t a weird word to use, scratchy. It’s never hard or less than intriguing, but I don’t know that it belongs with Clair de lune, necessarily. On the other hand, Dubugnon’s Lied does fit in splendidly, and its six-minute arc really does feel like a worthy successor to the other music here.
So I can congratulate Rysanov for his excellent playing, Dubugnon for at least one really excellent piece, and BIS for once again creating an exciting program blending old and new. By the way, Did you catch last year’s Fredrik Ullén piano recital from BIS, half Liszt and half Messiaen? I have two more prizes to hand out: most and least valuable player.
The least valuable player is the cover designer. I don’t understand it: some of the label’s CDs have among the most beautiful, stylish covers in the business. Their new Dvorák cello recital, Silent Woods, is gorgeously appointed with smart typesetting and a haunting photo of, well, silent woods. The Liszt/Messiaen recital has one of my favorite covers, too, and so does lutenist Jakob Lindberg’s latest CD. Then every so often they do something like this, which is hideous in every particular: the photograph of a sleeping or possibly comatose Max Rysanov, the way the photo has been cut and pasted onto an all-white background using Photoshop, the wacky mismatched fonts, the fading pink title. I feel bad for the performers.
That brings me to the most valuable player: pianist Ashley Wass. His contributions are simply phenomenal, with a softness of touch which makes one forget the piano is percussive. Wass’s sensitivity and luminous but slightly understated tone are enough to make me want to learn a stringed instrument so he can accompany me too. As a soloist rather than accompanist, Wass is the first-ever artist with an exclusive contract on Naxos. I hope Naxos is reading this: your Debussy, Fauré and Ravel piano cycles are out-of-date and not especially loved; Ashley Wass is the perfect man for the job. What I wouldn’t give to hear him play La plus que lente
In the meantime, this is a good enough album that you should not at all judge by its cover. The artists are what make this worth having.
Brian Reinhart 

Don’t judge this by its cover: excellent artistry in repertoire new and old, with Ashley Wass stealing the show. 

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