Debussy – Complete Works for Piano Volume 3 – Jean-Efflam Bavouzet

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Suite bergamasque
Danse bohémienne
Deux Arabesques
Children’s Corner
Hommage à Haydn
Morceau de Concours
La plus que lent
La Petit Nègre
Page d’album
Berceuse héroïque

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

Recorded 27-29 February 2008 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: June 2008
CHAN 10467
Duration: 72 minutes



Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s Debussy edition for Chandos is shaping up to be one of the most significant recording ventures of recent years. Bavouzet’s enthusiasm for music, and life in general, knows no bounds – and which shows in the diligence and joy that shine through his playing.

The 1892 Nocturne is an attractive, shadowy piece, featuring a central section in 7/4 time. Bavouzet lavishes much love onto it. His pedalling in the opening bars is beyond criticism, avoiding the archetypal wash of sound associated with performances of Debussy’s music yet conjuring up the requisite atmosphere. Suite bergamasque brings us to more familiar territory. Bavouzet deliberately hardens his tone for the dismissive final gesture of the ‘Prélude’ so that the softness of the ‘Menuet’ makes its mark all the more effectively. The highlight is ‘Clair de Lune’, delivered with tissue-thin delicacy and so much more involving than Simon Trpčeski on his recent EMI disc; Bavouzet cuts straight to the heart of this music. It would be difficult, too, to find a more even-toned staccato than Bavouzet’s in the delightful ‘Passepied’.

The melting beauty of Deux Arabesques comes as balm after the playful Danse bohémienne of 1880 (indeed, the closest the composer ever came to Tchaikovsky). Bavouzet has no problems eschewing any sense of the hackneyed for the Arabesques – they emerge as fresh as daisies.

Part of the joy of Bavouzet’s series is that of discovery. The Rêverie, given a melting performance here, sits next to the hesitant and less familiar Mazurka, also from around 1890. Bavouzet’s chordal work in the latter is magnificent – so much care lavished on a miniature. Few suites for piano are better known than Children’s Corner. While I would not be without Trpčeski, Bavouzet is just as compelling, his ‘Jumbo’s Lullaby’ full of hinted-at depths. He fills the spaces of ‘The little Shepherd’ with mystery before rounding off the set with the infectious rhythms of ‘Golliwog’s cake walk’ (how teasing is the “Tristan und Isolde” allusion!).

Of the remaining pieces, Hommage à Haydn is a model of restraint until the ‘animé’ effectively, but briefly, erases all gentilité. Published in Musica in 1905, Morceau de Concours, lasting less than a minute, is far more jerky and aphoristic than one might expect from this composer. La plus que lent is as restrained as La Petit Nègre is extrovert. The brief Page d’Album, another waltz, makes its point succinctly, while Berceuse héroïque quotes the Belgian national anthem in its middle section (the subtitle reads, “pour rendre Hommage à S.M. le Roi Albert I de Belgique et à ses Soldats”). Finally, the elusive Élégie of 1915, a piece that poses a huge number of questions without providing any answers. It is the perfect way to end the recital.

The recording is up to the high standards of this series. Another distinguishing factor is the excellence of the annotations. Roger Nichols’s commentaries are apt and knowledgeable, while Bavouzet adds his own slant in “A note from the artist”.

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