The French muse is obviously the focus of this selection of pieces, some of them considerably rare and obscure. Indeed, three are making premiere appearance on disc: works by Henri Büsser, Georges Hüe and Léon Honnoré. France was fortunate in having a fine raft of violists to stimulate commissions, dedications and performances. Pierre Monteux was one, then ensconced in an important string quartet, whilst Maurice Vieux was the most famous. Both men had works here dedicated to them; Hüe’s was dedicated to Monteux, and Reynaldo Hahn’s Soliloque et forlane to Vieux.
Things begin with Büsser’s Appassionato, Op 34, a hell-for-leather piece with an especially energetic piano part. Simon Crawford-Phillips deserves credit for his assurance here and throughout. This self-confident opus needs a firm hand. Lawrence Power proves the man to deal justly with its evocative B section, its cadential passage, and its slow romantic elements. Hüe’s Thème varié, which dates from 1907, offers some formidable problems technically and in terms of ensemble, and some bravado flourishes for the piano. There is, however, a jubilant and extrovert quality as well as a yearning lullaby feel for the viola. Let us hope that this performance stimulates other players to take it on: it is a splendid piece offering a sound balance between display and lyricism.
Hahn’s delightful neo-baroque confection is both chatty and witty, though Power’s subtle and deftly appropriate slides in Beau soir should not be overlooked in the welter of the relative novelty to be heard. It is good to encounter eternal expressive verities in the central canon too. Those expecting hot-house from Chausson’s Pièce will be disappointed—it is strangely anodyne—but Léon Honnoré’s Morceau de concert offers a conservatoire test piece with key-testing pitfalls for the unwary player, as well as a full complement of lyric legato to show rich tone. It is a tricky piece to play, but Power’s nonchalance is a tonic. Louis Vierne, whom one would certainly not expect to find in this company writing for these instruments, contributes a couple of light character pieces. Of greater musical significance is Lucien Durosoir’s inventive Vitrail with its unusual drifting harmonies and some music-box piano sonorities. One of the stand-out pieces, you can hardly fail to admire its gorgeous writing and its superbly aloof lyricism. Enescu’s Concertstück has become something of a regular viola recital piece by now but its complement of musical values ensures that it adds gravity and technical assurance to a programme that ends sombrely with Ravel’s Kaddisch.
Finely reproduced photographs of half the composers represented here complement Laura Hamer’s outstanding booklet note. The recording quality is excellently judged. There is more than enough in this beautifully played disc to attract viola aficionados and Francophiles alike.