The Strad Issue: January 2017
Description: Beautifully written Conservatoire test pieces, eloquently played
Musicians: Lawrence Power (viola) Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
Composer: Büsser, Chausson, Debussy, Durosoir, Enescu, Hahn, Honnoré, Hüe, Ravel, Vierne
Catalogue number: HYPERION CDA 68165

The best-known item in this most welcome recital is Enescu’s Concertstück, a piece that, like Büsser’s Appassionato and Honnoré’s Morceau de concert, was written as a test piece for the annual examinations at the Paris Conservatoire and dedicated to Théophile Laforge, teacher of the institution’s first viola class. The latter two, recorded here for the first time, have little to fear from a direct comparison with Enescu’s fastidiously constructed and harmonically subtle composition.

One marvels afresh at the high level of craftsmanship the academic composers of fin-de-siècle Paris commanded: every piece here is deliberately written to cater for the ‘petites différences’ that are peculiar to the instrument.

Lawrence Power’s sensuous sound transports the listener instantly to a sophisticated salon of the Belle Époque. He finely shapes the chorale-like three-part chords that open Honnoré’s Morceau, and the pianissimo he achieves in a later section, marked cantabile semplice, takes one’s breath away. Power’s shaping of cadenza-like passages, here and elsewhere, can be finicky, and he occasionally indulges in unstylish slides. But he and Simon Crawford-Phillips have a keen ear for each piece’s peculiar sound world.

The impressionistic textures of Durosoir’s Vitrail are exquisitely weighed, Büsser’s Appassionato bursts fierily forth and Hahn’s faux-folk Forlane is piquantly characterised. Ravel’s Kaddisch, the last piece on this vividly recorded CD, seems initially out of place in this decadently Proustian programme but Power’s heart-wrenching performance soon silences any such thoughts.

Carlos María Solare