Ballade (Ballade slave)
Danse (Tarantelle styrienne)
Pour le piano
…D’un cahier d’esquisses
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Recorded 12-14 July 2007 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK
Reviewed by: Peter Joelson
Reviewed: April 2008
CD No: CHANDOS
Duration: 66 minutes
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet continues his complete works for piano by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and it is every bit as good as the first.
Estampes, Images and Pour le Piano are each written in three movements. Chandos’s programming groups the remaining pieces in threes to very good effect. The first triptych was written after Debussy had won the Prix de Rome and had moved to live in Paris, and was offered to his publisher as a group, perhaps hoping to have them and himself exposed in the Paris salons. Ballade, originally Ballade Slave for no good reason other than to make the title more attractive, is technically less arduous than many of Debussy’s piano works, yet offers listeners satisfaction on several levels. The middle section has a deeper atmosphere that Bavouzet is careful not to overplay. Valse romantique gives hints of the arpeggios and embellishments that were to become fingerprints of his later works. Danse, published as Tarentelle styrienne, has, like Ballade, a deeper middle section, Bavouzet contrasting the outer vivacious parts with humour and more than a nod to Debussy the thinker.
This bipartite nature of Debussy’s works, the public/private aspect of his writing, continued in his more mature works. He described Images (oubliées) as conversations between the pianist and the piano, and felt their introspection would not go down well in the salons. The first, marked Lent (mélancolique et doux) is followed by a ‘Sarabande’, depicting an old portrait in the Louvre, with a gorgeous somewhat keening theme. The last of the three is in quick tempo and based on a popular song, ending with bell-like sounds, exquisitely played by Bavouzet.
Pour le piano was begun at around the same time. Again, the middle piece is a ‘Sarabande’, a picture of elegance. The outer movements are quick, a ‘Prélude’ and a Toccata, the whole a nod to centuries past.
Estampes (Engravings), which is programmed before Pour le piano, marks a maturing in Debussy’s style, Ravel himself feeling that his Jeux d’eau had been an inspiration. ‘Pagodes’ was inspired by an Indonesian pagoda complete with Buddha, at the Paris exhibition of 1889 and uses the pentatonic scale of gamelan music for colour. ‘La soirée dans Grenade’ is a sensuous habañera, the singers and guitarists making seductive sounds in competition rather than harmony. Lastly, ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ makes use of the popular song previously used in Images, and paints a picture of a garden in the rain, unfit for a child to play in until, at last, the sun comes out in a blaze of triumph and warmth at the end. Bavouzet brings out all the colours without chromium plating or blandness.
Finally Bavouzet gives us another triptych not published as such. Masques does not refer to the masks of the Commedia dell’arte, rather to “the tragic expression of existence”, providing the listener with a sometimes unsettling dance. L’Isle joyeuse is based on a specific painting, Antoine Watteau’s “L’Embarquement pour Cythère”, and was written shortly after Debussy had eloped to Jersey with Emma Bardac, who was to become his second wife. The recital ends with …D’un cahier d’esquisses, balancing the programme very effectively, a piece whose form is so free it seems to be improvised, and like notes torn from a sketchbook it quotes some of the pieces already heard in this recital and also the orchestral La mer.
Bavouzet uses the new Durand editions which have been purged of errors and misprints, and has performed the magic act of having studied the works deeply over a long time, yet playing them all with the “natural spontaneity” he asks about in his contribution to the excellent booklet. Recording quality is first-class, setting the glorious Steinway Model D in a warm yet clear acoustic. Very highly recommended.