DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Complete Piano Works - Volume 3 Nocturne (1892) [5:44] Suite bergamesque (1890/1905) [16:24]
I. Prélude [3:44]
II. Menuet [4:06]
III. Clair de lune [4:50]
IV.Passepied [3:43] Danse bohémienne (1880) [2:03] Deux Arabesques (1890-91) [7:18]
Première Arabesque [4:04]
Deuxième Arabesque [3:13] Rêverie (c. 1890) [4:22] Mazurka (c. 1890) [3:02] Children's Corner (1906-08) [15:44]
I. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum [2:06]
1I. Jimbo's Lullaby [3:08]
III. Serenade for the Doll [2:24]
IV. The Snow is Dancing [2:29]
V. The Little Shepherd [2:23]
VI. Golliwogg's Cake-walk [3:11] Hommage à Haydn (1909) [2:26] Morceau de concours (1904) [0:58] La plus que lent (1910) [4:40] The Little Nigar (1909) [1:14] Page d'Album (1915) [1:09] Berceuse héroïque (1914) [4:18] Élégie (1915) [2:28]
rec. 17-19 February 2006, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK CHANDOS
French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet peers impishly from
the cover of this CD, a disarming portrait and perhaps
a clue to his musical personality. The recent Debussy disc
from Simon Trpčeski (EMI 5002722; see review)
sports an up-close-and-personal image of the pianist and
that certainly does point to an extrovert, larger-than-life
performing style. Not a remotely scientific observation,
of course, but intriguing nonetheless.
have not heard the first two discs in Bavouzet’s cycle
but Christopher Howell makes some interesting points about
Volume 1 (see review) that
apply to Volume 3 as well but more of that of later. And
while it’s always daunting
to review a much-praised performer – Bavouzet has won a
slew of prestigious awards – this disc turned out to be
more of a challenge than I’d expected.
his review Chris commented that Bavouzet needed to be heard ‘on
his own terms’, a sentiment I share. His Debussy is so
different, so individual, that comparisons with others
are not terribly
illuminating. That said, I have pitted the two Arabesques, ‘Clair
de lune’ and Children’s Corner against Trpčeski’s,
if only because they are still so fresh in my mind.
recital opens with the evocative Nocturne, wonderfully
fluid and a prime example of what Chris calls Bavouzet’s
control of the ‘long pianissimo line’. It’s clear Bavouzet
is an exceptional pianist – and the Potton Hall acoustic
as flattering as ever – so why doesn’t this night music
make more of an impression? Is it too cool, too detached,
or is this the way Debussy should be played? I see that
Pierre Boulez is one of Jean-Efflam’s mentors and I began
to wonder just how much influence he has had on the younger
man’s musical style.
bergamasque is a bit of a
puzzle too. ‘Prélude’ is lucid but wilful – surely the
rubato is overdone – ‘Menuet’ nimble but just a little
contrived at times. Make no mistake, Bavouzet produces
some gorgeous sounds and one never doubts his command
of the keyboard. No, what seems to be missing is more
colour, shading, variety of timbre, all essential in
de lune’ was the most successful piece on Trpčeski’s disc, warm, full-bodied and wonderfully atmospheric. In contrast
Bavouzet sounds rather lightweight; he imbues the music
with a brittle charm, but it’s not terribly evocative.
Of the dances ‘Passepied’ is more successful, as light
and rhythmic as one could hope for, while Danse
bohémienne has pin-sharp articulation
and a marvellous sense of momentum.
the other pieces from the 1890s Mazurka is robust
enough but the self-conscious phrasing could be a problem
for some listeners. Strangely that bothered me less in Rêverie, which
has more character and feeling than we’ve heard so far.
There is also a rare sense of introspection here that Bavouzet
brings out with consummate skill.
two Arabesques may be heavily indebted to Schumann
but they are still superbly crafted miniatures, full of
magic touches. Trpčeski plays them with
real élan, even though his quest for detail spoils
these pieces a little. Bavouzet is harder to like here,
perhaps because the music lacks essential sparkle, character
even, that Trpčeski brings out so well.
character is all-important in Children’s Corner, affectionately
subtitled ‘À ma chère petite Chouchou avec les tendres excuses de son Père
pour ce qui va suivre’. It was an
aspect I found somewhat lacking in Trpčeski’s performance
and I have to say Bavouzet isn’t entirely successful either,
albeit for different reasons. The mock seriousness of ‘Doctor
Gradus’ is missing in both but, more crucially, there is
no sense of fun in either. Meanwhile, Bavouzet’s lullaby
is lighter and less awkwardly phrased than Trpčeski’s,
but he still seems to have trouble conveying the wit and
charm of the piece.
pianist strikes the right note with ‘Serenade for the Doll’ and ‘The
Little Shepherd’ but .in ‘The Snow is Dancing’ Trpčeski’s
flakes have a wonderful whirl and swirl that quite eludes
Bavouzet. That said, ‘Golliwogg’s Cake-walk’ does bring
out the Frenchman’s puckish side – I was beginning to wonder
if I’d misread his portrait after all – although the usual
caveat about mannered playing applies. Still, it’s the
most child-like rendition here and rightly so. What a pity
that same twinkle-in-the-eye quality doesn’t come through
de concours is a real oddity;
it was published in the journal Musica in 1905,
along with pieces by Saint-Saëns, Massenet and Chaminade,
and readers were invited to guess the composers’ identities.
It’s a jokey little gem and Bavouzet gives it plenty
of fake majesty. Hommage à Haydn, written for
the centenary of that composer’s death in 1909,is
played with rare passion, the waltz theme charmingly
done. La plus que lent also has a waltz at its
heart and Bavouzet makes it sound wonderfully fluent
and, where necessary, he adds plenty of weight. Thankfully
he even loosens up a little in that jazzy, music-hall-inspired
piece, The Little Nigar.
certainly seems more at ease with the harmonic complexities
of Debussy’s later works and one can only admire his concentration
and focus, especially in the rather grand Berceuse héroïque.
In Élégie there is a marvellous questing quality – not
to mention a harmonic strangeness – that Bavouzet captures
rather well. A pleasing conclusion to an otherwise uneven
Howell was more complimentary about Volume 2 in this series
and looked forward to this next instalment. Having heard
so much about Bavouzet I was also hoping for something
rather special. In the event I was somewhat disappointed,
although there are some good – no, excellent – things here.
In general, though, the Frenchman seems more convincing
in the later works, less so in the earlier ones. I described
the Trpčeski disc as a ’work in progress’, and I’m
tempted to say the same applies here.
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