Sometimes it can be fruitful to embrace stereotypes. The notion of the noble, melancholic viola dates back at least as far as Berlioz. Maxim Rysanov has previously demonstrated that there is far more to the instrument than Romantic brooding, but this disc finds him exploring that cliché.
None of the works here was originally conceived with viola in mind and, with two notable exceptions, the repertoire is exactly what you might expect from a collection of French music. It takes its name from the opening and closing works: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte and Fauré’s Pavane; in between, the latter’s Après un rêve, Elégie and Romance nestle alongside Debussy’s Clair de lune and La fille aux cheveux de lin. The arrangements are exceptionally fine and the playing is utterly sublime, especially Rysanov’s delicacy in upper registers and gossamer-like harmonics. At times Ashley Wass is too much the straight man – he’s slightly rigid in Faure’s Elégie – but his touch is exquisite.
The sense throughout is more of fine dark chocolate than sugar, and what (only just) prevents this becoming too sickly is the inclusion of Richard Dubugnon’s Lied and, especially, Incantatio. These are not so much arrangements as recompositions, adding a little spice to the mix.