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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra (1923-24, rev. 1950) [18:36]
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1928-29, rec. 1949) [16:59]
Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1958-59) [9:10]
Pétrouchka (1910-11, rev. 1946) [34:16]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier
rec. 2014, Sala São Paulo, Júlio Prestes Cultural Center, São Paulo, Brazil

Brian Wilson’s review of this release covers a great deal of ground with regard to the alternative recordings available for these works. While I think there’s a time for trawling through everything for good, better, best, there’s also a moment when you see something in the shop or online and just think, 'hmm, that looks good – I’ll take it.' I’ve been an enthusiast for Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s recordings in the past, from the romance of his Debussy and Pierné to the impact of his Bartók, and, as if it were needed, the cool retro looks of this all-Stravinsky programme clinches the deal to make for an irresistible package as far as I’m concerned.

Bavouzet and the São Paulo players lend a jazzy swing to the syncopations in the first and last movements of the Concerto, giving this piece more of a familial affinity with the best of Milhaud than I can recall hearing elsewhere, with that unmistakable nervous energy and poetic power which makes Stravinsky such a distinctive voice in 20th century music. The same goes for the character of the wind playing in the second movement, which is given a dark, funereal feel in this performance. Bavouzet doesn’t over-sentimentalise or linger over the flourishes and cadenza-like solo, but does give the music a softness which provides sufficient contrast with the rest to make things effective. The clarity in the recording gives a vertiginous insight into Stravinsky’s subtle mixing of timbres.

The Capriccio followed on from the Concerto as a repertoire piece for Stravinsky’s own concert appearances as a pianist, and if anything this compact score brings out even more of the nature of a freely-interpreted concerto grosso form, with its ever shifting perspectives of different instrumental groups as they appear from behind the pianos intense and spiky figurations. Jazzy character is brought out again in the first movement, with moments which could be interpreted as a nod to Gershwin, though I doubt Stravinsky would have acknowledged such associations. The central Andante rapsodico is a heady mix of musical fantasy and eccentric unexpectedness, the musicians here at times bouncing through the notes like a flat stone skimming over water. The playful lightness of the third movement is both charming and packed with cartoonish, sometimes almost grotesque caricature. If Ravel took the dance from the salon and into the madness of haunted ballrooms, Stravinsky dragged it into silent-movie cabaret.

Movements, a piano concerto in all but name, is as an example of this composer’s “full-blown serialism” not one of his most frequently heard pieces. Despite its angular atonality if couldn’t be by anyone else however, and the refined accuracy of the performance makes this a superb reference. If you already have Steven Osborne on Hyperion you may not be tempted however, and it’s funny to see the overall timing is the same to the second between both versions.

Pétrouchka is such a massively popular work that you may not feel like crossing the road to pick up this version. It is however very good indeed, with all of the fun and dramatic character you would hope for from a South American orchestra. There is no pulling back from those scampering ‘Tom and Jerry’ moments, and with percussion and brass finally allowed to let rip here and there you can sense real enjoyment in this session. With a well-paced narrative and a sensitivity to the score’s scenic contrasts and the composer’s excellent orchestration Yan Pascal Tortelier delivers a performance which can stand amongst the best, and at the very least stand in comfortably as a default library choice without your needing to worry that you are missing any alternative glories. Bavouzet’s stunning pianism is the icing on an already very well-seasoned cake.

I’m delighted to hear how well balanced the piano is in this recording, with none of the massive presence and vanishing orchestras of some other piano recordings I’ve come across. The SACD effect is terrific, adding buckets of extra space to a sound which is already demonstration quality in conventional stereo.

Dominy Clements
Previous review: Brian Wilson



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