En blanc et noir
Jeux – poème dansé [arranged for two pianos by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet]
Sites auriculaires – Entre cloches
La valse – poème chorégraphique [arranged for two pianos by the composer]
Vladimir Ashkenazy & Vovka Ashkenazy (pianos)
Recorded 1-4 May 2008 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2009
CD No: DECCA 478 1090
Duration: 66 minutes
The first movement of En blanc et noir bursts out of the speakers with real energy and rigour, a festive counterpart to war-torn times, 1915, but the solemn second (‘Lent-Sombre’) is a memorial to (Lieutenant) Jacques Charlot, who worked for Debussy’s publisher, Durand, and who perished in the early days of the First World War; the movement’s middle section is kaleidoscopic in its references and imagery. The finale is a fantasy, quite chilly, as befits the score’s superscription, “Winter, you are nothing but a scoundrel”.
Ashkenazy father and son give a compelling account of En blanc et noir, and then go on to savour Jeux, which really needs the orchestra for its full effect, so too La valse (heard here in Ravel’s own arrangement), but Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (himself a noted Debussy pianist) has made a sensitive and convincing transcription of Jeux; and if the orchestra of Rapsodie espagnole seems hopelessly errant on this occasion, then this two-piano version is how Ravel originally wrote the work. It’s enjoyable enough when played like this, even if the performance is short on colour, something that is more beneficial to La valse, given a sustained and intense account that is impressive, and the Ashkenazys find their way into the mercurial world of Jeux with subtlety and allure.
Of the miniatures, Lindaraja is another of those gems by Debussy that immediately suggests a specific world yet teases the listener and enwraps the senses; and ‘Entre cloches’ (a shame its companion piece is missing) is heady with bell sounds. This fine collection enjoys an authoritative booklet note by Roger Nichols and excellent sound from Tony Faulkner; a very recommendable release.