The viola continues apace advancing its share of representation as a solo instrument in the catalog of classical recordings. We generally see a half dozen or so added to the catalog each month, and if memory serves me, there are now four titles on Expedition Audio devoted to the viola as a solo instrument (you can search E.A. for “viola” to find them). To illustrate just how far the instrument has come in a relatively short period of time, consider that the Conservatoire de Paris, established in 1795, did not offer a viola class until 1894; ninety-nine years after the establishment of the violin and cello programs! Where did orchestras get enough violists for, well, the Romantic period?
Violist Maxim Rysanov’s program on this BIS Super Audio CD is made up of some very familiar charmers from composers of the impressionist period plus two pieces by one composer who is working today, Richard Dubugnon, born in 1968. Highlights of the earlier works include Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Fauré’s Pavane. These are all transcriptions, of course, and the hushed, wistful tone of the viola benefits Rysanov’s superbly musical performances. The two works by Richard Dubugnon, Incantatio, in three movements and Lied are both transcriptions by the composer of earlier works for cello and for double bass respectively. We offer his Lied as a sample of Mr. Dubugnon’s work. Incantatio is somewhat less tonal, darker and edgier. I found both to be very interesting.
Mr. Rysanov is a prizewinner of the Genera International Viola Competition and was the Classic FM Gramophone Young Artists of the Year. He is accompanied by pianist Ashley Wass, a winner at the London International Piano Competition and prizewinner at the Leeds Piano Competition. From the excellent booklet notes comes this quotation of François Couperin: “I love that which touches me much better than that which surprises me.” If you feel that way too, you’ll enjoy this recording.
In his Treatise on Instrumentation, Hector Berlioz wrote of the viola that ‘the sound of its strings is particularly telling, its upper notes are distinguished by their mournfully passionate accent, and its quality of tone, of a profound melancholy, differs from that of other instruments played with a bow’. In devising the present programme, Maxim Rysanov could almost have been inspired by this description, and by the affinity between the timbre of the viola and the particular colours in French music. The pieces – all arrangements – by Ravel, Fauré and Debussy are bathed in an atmosphere of calm beauty with a hint of melancholy. Framed by two Pavanes, they include perennial favourites such as Après un rêve and Clair de lune, performed by a player who ‘couldn’t make an ugly sound if he tried’ and who ‘better than almost anyone else is able to bring out the beauties of the viola’ according to reviews in International Record Review and on website klassik.com respectively. Two contemporary pieces are included – both of them by the Swiss-French composer Richard Dubugnon (b. 1968), described as belonging ‘to a tradition that looks back to Ravel by way of Dutilleux’. Incantatio and Lied, both for viola and piano, are adaptations by the composer of existing works, made especially for Maxim Rysanov. For BIS Rysanov has previously recorded a solo disc (with three of Bach’s cello suites) as well as his own arrangement for viola and orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. He is here partnered by the eminent British pianist Ashley Wass.
1. Pavane pour une infante défunte (5’15)
2. Après un rêve, Op.7 No.1 (3’08)
3. Élégie, Op.24 (6’55)
Incantatio for viola and piano, Op.12b
4. 1. Evocatio. Lento espressivo (6’15)
5. 2. Apparitio. Ectoplasmic – Cadenza (4’36)
6. 3. Saltatio. Prestissimo volando (4’00)
7. Romance, Op.69 (3’32)
8. Clair de lune (3’58)
9. Lied, Op.44b (5’42)
10. La fille aux cheveux de lin (2’28)
11. Pavane, Op.50 (5’14)
Viola: Maxim Rysanov
Maxim has long been recognised by the international music scene and his list of prizes affirm that status. These include the Classic FM Gramophone Young Artist of the Year Award 2008 and the BBC New Generation Award 2007-2009 among many others. His enthusiasm for new music has generated collaborations, which have extended the viola repertoire.
For more information, please visit maximrysanov.com.
Piano: Ashley Wass
Described as an ‘endlessly fascinating artist’, Ashley Wass is firmly established as one of the leading performers of his generation. He is the only British winner of the London International Piano Competition, prizewinner at the Leeds Piano Competition, and a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist.
For more information, please visit www.ashleywass.com.
Composer: Richard Dubugnon
Richard Dubugnon was born in Lausanne (Switzerland) in 1968 and has both Swiss and French nationalities. He started music at the age of 20 after reading History in Montpellier (France) and was accepted in 1992 at the Paris Conservatoire, where he graduated with prizes in Double Bass, Counterpoint and Fugue.
For more information, please visit www.richarddubugnon.com.
Composer: Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects. Along with Claude Debussy, he was one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music.
For more information, please visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Ravel.
Composer: Achille-Claude Debussy
Achille-Claude Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions.
For more information, please visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Debussy.
Composer: Gabriel Urbain Fauré
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th-century composers.
For more information, please visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_Faur%C3%A9.