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Fin de Siècle
Henri BÜSSER (1872-1973)
Appassionato, Op.34 (1910) [5:40]
Georges HÜE (1858-1948)
Thème varié (1907) [9:52]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Soliloque et forlane (1937) [6:52]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Beau soir (1877-78) [2:48]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-189)
Pièce, Op.39 (1897) [5:58]
Léon HONNORÉ (1859-after 1901)
Morceau de concert (1890) [6:59]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Deux pièces (1894-95) [5:37]
Lucien DUROSOIR (1878-1955)
Vitrail (1934) [4:33]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Concertstück (1906) [8:24]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Deux melodies hébraïque (1914) No.1: Kaddisch [4:37]
Lawrence Power (viola)
Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
rec. 2015, Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth
Reviewed as 16-bit lossless download from Hyperion
HYPERION CDA68165 [61:26]

It is hard to imagine a better case for the much-disparaged viola than this fascinating, beautiful and wonderfully played collection of French music. The chronological nature of the title is rather stretched by the inclusion of two works from the 1930s and another from the 1870s, so it is best to consider it as more of an expression of the style.

Three of the names on the programme were new to me – Büsser, Hüe and Honnoré – while a fourth – Durosoir – was only familiar through his appearance in my piano trio survey. Of the works by the well-known composers, I’d only heard Debussy’s Beau soir but in the version for violin. The Ravel will be known to more of you in its original form for voice and piano or orchestra.

It is therefore a tantalising programme, and perhaps the only reservation one might have in advance would be a possible lack of contrast. That too has been considered, and from track to track, there is a satisfying variety of tempo, dynamics and mood.

With music of this era and country of origin, you will have a pretty good idea of the style, so rather than attempting to describe each piece, let me just pick out some of the more noteworthy items.

My favourite is without doubt, the Deux pieces by Vierne. As Jonathan Woolf has commented in his earlier review, one might not expect such a work from this composer better known for his organ music. I feel that Jonathan’s description of these as “light character pieces” doesn’t do them justice. Complex they may not be - little on the album is - but this is more than compensated for by the lovely melodies and a beguiling wistfulness. The Hahn with its contrasting sections of quiet beauty and wryly humorous virtuosity is a winner, though one must say that it certainly does not sound like the most recently composed work.

The Honnoré piece, written as a competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire, begins uncannily like the opening bars of the Presto agitato movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, but then opens out into a work that stretches the violist as intended. Durosoir’s Vitrail, which means ‘stained glass’, is the most modern, with its greater proportion of dissonance, but certainly not enough to frighten the horses. I am not a devotee of Enescu, and this work, one of the more often played from this genre, hasn’t changed that.

Lawrence Power is one of the pre-eminent violists in the world today, a worthy successor to the tradition of Lionel Tertis and William Primrose. He tosses off the more complex passagework as though it were a trifle, and the tonal quality that he coaxes from his instrument is glorious. Simon Crawford-Phillips is a perfect partner.

Production values are very high, as is usual for this label. Perhaps the only disappointment is the somewhat short running time. I have no idea how many other works for this combination of the requisite era and country there are, but at the very least, there is the second of the Ravel melodies.

David Barker

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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