Fin de siècle
Dive straight in with Henri Büsser’s Appassionato. It leaps right out at you, Lawrence Power’s viola sweeping exuberantly upwards over Simon Crawford-Phillips’s glinting torrent of piano sound. Not what you expected? Well, after all, the title ‘Fin de siècle’ suggests a certain perfumed lassitude. And you don’t need to have read much French musical history to have formed an impression of the Paris Conservatoire as a place where dry-as-dust professors enforced a bloodless classicism. Many of the pieces on this disc were written as morceaux de concours for the Conservatoire, yet they’re warm-blooded, poetic and – in Power and Crawford-Phillips’s hands – urgently alive.
This whole recital is full of discoveries like the Büsser. Some of them – such as Georges Hüe’s Thème varié and Enescu’s Concertstück of 1906 – are practically single-movement sonatas. Léon Honnoré’s Morceau de concert, with its grandiose double-stops and melodramatic surges, is effectively a mini-concerto, and Crawford-Phillips does a fine job of supplying the absent orchestral colour. The Honnoré, Hüe and Büsser are all premiere recordings, but Lucien Durosoir’s Vitrail (shades of early Messiaen) and Reynaldo Hahn’s delightfully skittish Soliloque et forlane deserve to be better known, and – like the more familiar Ravel and Debussy transcriptions – they’re beautifully performed.
The players’ enthusiasm is self-evident, and Power tempers his sweet, full-throated tone (listen to him soar from 2'00" into the Enescu) with a lovely inwardness in the quieter music. Crawford-Phillips is very much on the same page; the pair phrase naturally together and the long sunset coda of the Thème varié is exquisitely done. Hyperion’s recording captures the music’s sensuous beauty without sacrificing clarity, making this a consistently enjoyable way to discover some unexpectedly rewarding music.