Assembling a CD of viola and piano works from the turn of the century, mostly French or from composers residing in France, is quite an achievement, and proves full of fascinating byways. Lawrence Power and Simon Crawford-Phillips place alongside Debussy, Ravel and Enescu some relatively unknown figures, including three first recordings, or pieces by Büsser, Hüe and Honnoré. Many of the lesser known composers were distinguished figures within the Paris Conservatoire's systems, including Prix de Rome winners, even if largely forgotten elsewhere, while the Venezuelan-born Reynaldo Hahn is best known for his superb songs and his relationship with Proust.
The earliest inclusion—Debussy's song Beau Soir, in transcription—is from 1877-8, and the latest, Hahn's Soliloque et forlane, from 1937; in between, the pieces are linked largely by ambience. One encounters intense, languidly colourful harmonies, and a doughty determination to make the most of the viola's distinctive capabilities. Power and Crawford-Phillips are a superb duo, matching their depth and richness of tone with an energetic, passionate approach, and the warm recorded sound lets them shine. In their hands the Chausson and Debussy pieces become, suitably sensual flowerbeds of sound; and the Vierne and Enescu works are more than worthy of repeated hearings. The magisterial account of Ravel's Kaddisch (the Jewish prayer for the dead) makes a fitting final highlight.