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 Debussy and Ravel: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano); London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Valéry Gergiev. Barbican Hall, 24.9.2009 (CC)

The LSO’s 2009/10 season is now nicely under way. Kavakos was the soloist in Dutilleux’s L’arbre des songes on Sunday; Jean-Efflam Bazouzet was the soloist here in Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left-Hand. The remainder of the concert was the same: Debussy La mer to kick off, and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (complete) to end.

Gergiev is no stranger to Debussy’s sea painting, and neither is the LSO for that matter. The interpretation was carefully wrought, right from the properly (and immediately) mysterious opening through the beautiful horn chorale in “De l’aube à midi sur la mer”, the flickering yet simultaneously elemental “Jeux de vagues” and on to the sheer force of Nature that was the “Dialogue du vent et de la mer”. I wonder how much rehearsal was allocated (or even used), though. There were individual moments when lack of rehearsal showed though, and I wonder if it really was Gergiev’s wish to have the brass (trumpets in particular) dominate so much in the second movement. Gergiev’s take on impressionism includes broad brush strokes as well as subtle ones, it appears, and it made for an exciting ride, climaxing in what can best be described as the tremendous cacophony of the final pages.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is best known these days for his superb Debussy series on Chandos, but one must not forget that he has recorded the complete Ravel solo piano music for Dabringhaus und Grimm. Here, in the Left-Hand Concerto, he was on absolute top form, his sound large, almost defiant, his finger definition stunning (particularly in the low opening). Clarity was magnificent throughout, in fact, in a rendition that married style and virtuosity perfectly. There was tremendous character here, and exquisite beauty, too. The orchestra’s contribution was generally excellent – special mention to bassoonist Rachel Gough here for her plaintive contribution.

Ravel’s complete Daphnis et Chloé ballet (1909-11) was the sole offering of the second half. The score offers opportunities for many orchestral soloists to shine (in particular leader Anton Barakhovsky and flautist Gareth Davies excelled themselves) but it is itself a miracle of integrity. Gergiev’s reading was fabulously judged, as were the contributions from the London Symphony Chorus. Predictably perhaps the Sunrise was ecstatic, while the choral contributions reminded us yet again what a fine choir the LSC is. The main quibble is that what was missing was pure sensuality, a vital ingredient of the piece. It is the Left-Hand Concerto that remains the highlight of the evening, therefore.

Colin Clarke

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