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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467 (1785) [28:06]
Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527 (1787) [5:54]
Piano Concerto No. 20 in d minor, K. 466 (1785) [31:08]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. 2018, The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, UK
Piano Concertos Vol. 4
CHANDOS CHAN20083 [65:08]

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has been a busy pianist for the last decade or so, amassing a huge discography for the Chandos label, not to mention his very considerable concert activity. One outstanding aspect of his artistry is his ability to adapt to so many different composers and their styles, from Haydn and Beethoven to Prokofiev and Stravinsky. He’s done the complete sonatas of Beethoven and has taken on numerous other projects, including the complete piano works of Debussy and Ravel and the sonatas of Haydn. I have his set of the complete concertos of Prokofiev and have found it competitive with the excellent cycles of Ashkenazy (Decca), Browning (RCA), and Bronfman (Sony), and preferable to the fine efforts of Beroff (EMI), Mustonen (Ondine), El Bacha (Rewind), and Paik (Naxos). Thus, I was eager to sample his Mozart, which I find quite compelling, making me regret that I missed the first three volumes in this ongoing series.

Bavouzet plays both concertos with moderate to quite brisk tempos, the finales particularly fleet. He uses Beethoven’s cadenzas in K. 466 and Friedrich Gulda’s in K. 467, both choices quite fine, at least to my ears. In general, his approach here exhibits nuance and elegance in his subtle legato touch, but he can turn stormy and sinewy or playful and light when those features are appropriate. Gábor Takács-Nagy partners him well, taking a similarly lean approach with the orchestra, never going to an extreme in his use of rubato or dynamics, letting the music, in effect, speak for itself.

The C major Concerto leads off here, and its first movement is moderately paced. Bavouzet captures the frolicsome yet elegant character of the music about as well as any pianist I’ve heard. He plays with utter confidence, his dynamics so naturally fitting the emotional flow of the music. He begins the Gulda cadenza in a jolting, strident manner, presenting a nice contrast to the mostly good-natured music that preceded. All in all, this a very effective rendering of the opening panel. The second movement is phrased to exhibit elegance and dreaminess, rather than sentimentality or mawkishness, characteristics which some pianists apparently tend to favor. Bavouzet does manage to impart the necessary sense of tension as the music proceeds. His additions or improvisations in this movement (a common practice among pianists because of Mozart’s sometimes sparse writing here) are tasteful and well imagined. The finale is brisk and playful, a true joy. As suggested earlier, Takács-Nagy and the Manchester Camerata give Bavouzet fine support throughout.

The D minor Concerto, the better of the two in my view, opens with an appropriately dark demeanor, the music restless and now divulging greater weight with a more potent sound from the orchestra. Takács-Nagy imparts urgency to the music as rhythms are more pointed and accents deftly applied. Bavouzet adds just a bit more muscle to his tone, though the gracefulness is still there and his smooth and consistent manner of phrasing remains. The whole movement has impact, coming across about as well as I’ve ever heard it. The second movement is appropriately lighter here, the music in the outer sections airy and elegant. The middle section takes off with urgency and maintains tension throughout. The finale, as earlier suggested is briskly paced. Still, Bavouzet makes his tempo work nicely, the music having more weight and darkness than you’ll encounter in most other versions. Bavouzet’s brilliant performance of the Beethoven cadenza adds to this more serious take on the music. That said, the chipper alternate theme still comes across playfully and subtly. Takács-Nagy and company offer fine support here and throughout the concerto. They also deliver an excellent performance of the Don Giovanni Overture, which comes between the two works.

Chandos provides vivid and well balanced sound in all works. The pianist whom Bavouzet may be closest to in style, at least in these concertos, is Alfred Brendel. Brendel’s approach, especially in his tempos, is quite similar, at least in his recorded versions of both works with Neville Marriner and in K. 466 with Mackerras. Even his tone bears a resemblance to Bavouzet’s, though at times Brendel does tend to be a bit brittle. As for the competition in these concertos, I would say that in K. 466 Serkin (DG), Richter (DG) and Pires (Euroarts) are all fine choices, and in K. 467 Simone Dinnerstein (Sony) is excellent, as is Brendel (Philips, with Marriner). Bavouzet’s accounts can stand proudly with all these, and if one wants a coupling of these two concertos, I would make his performances on this Chandos disc my first choice.

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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